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5 Signs You Are A Digital Hypochondriac

I, for one, am a victim of internet health anxiety.

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Elena Scotti
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Ah, my mid to late 40s — so much to appreciate. I’m enjoying the wisdom of experience, the security of a carefully built life and stenosis in my cervical spine. Or maybe it’s arthritis.

Actually, I’m not sure if those are the same thing, but I googled “neck pain” and it’s clear to me that my spine is deteriorating and I’m developing osteoporosis. I know this because it was on the internet, so it must be true.

I am a victim of internet health anxiety. That’s 2020 for hypochondria. This obsession with self-diagnosing is the latest trend, and it’s spreading across the nation — even more so now, in the time of COVID-19. But even before the coronavirus hit, it’s no wonder — with so much health information at our fingertips 24/7 — that we’re hooked. With the click of a mouse, we can convince ourselves that we are suffering from the disease du jour. People are becoming obsessed with digital hypochondria.

For those of us who need to get a handle on the signs and treatment for hypochondriacs, we turned for advice to Niket Sonpal, M.D., board certified New York City internist and gastroenterologist; and Sanam Hafeez, New York-based neuropsychologist.

According to Sonpal, here are signs that you may be too worried about your health and wellness.

Incessantly online

“For a hypochondriac, Google is like crack cocaine,” says Sonpal. “Hypochondriacs tend to convince themselves that if they feel something or see something on their body, it is always the worst-case scenario. Any web search will reveal that there is always a disease that matches your symptoms.”

Frequent doctor visits

Sonpal recalls the same patient coming in regularly and always being perfectly fine. “It was everything from ‘Check this lump on my neck,’ or ‘Is the color of my tongue normal?’ to ‘Listen to my heart! I think it beats too fast!’ If you find yourself visiting doctors regularly and there’s never anything physically wrong with you, you may have health anxiety that requires the attention of a therapist.”

Total avoidance of doctors

“Juxtaposed to the patient who visits doctors all the time is the person who is so deathly afraid of finding out something is wrong, they skip important medical visits like yearly physicals, mammograms, gynecology visits, dental visits, etc. This is obviously is dangerous. By the time something is caught, it can be at an advanced stage,” he says.

Living in a bubble

“As a result of the overwhelming fear of getting an illness, people who are suffering from hypochondria may avoid places or activities that could potentially pose a health risk,” Sonpal says. “A hypochondriac may avoid airplanes, movie theaters or other enclosed, crowded public areas where they feel germs are more likely to spread.”

Repetitive body checks

“Most people might not notice a bruise on their leg from a minor fall a few days earlier,” he says. “But people with hypochondria tend to analyze their entire body for signs of illness. These constant body checks often make people more sensitive, so that they are more likely to notice subtle changes that many people would not see.”

So how do we manage our online hypochondria? Hafeez provides some insight. In addition to meditation, therapy and finding a sympathetic physician, Hafeez recommends that we stop Googling our symptoms.

“In the age of health blogs, DIYs and self-diagnosis tutorials, the internet is filled with erroneous information that can add to a hypochondriac’s medical anxiety,” she says. “Staying offline provides individuals with the ability to prevent the constant checking and worrying that increases their anxiety.”

I suppose I should listen to Hafeez — and that this advice might also include removing the Web MD bookmark from my internet favorites and deleting that self-diagnosis app I have on my phone. But first, I need to make sure that the shape of my ear is normal. I mean, have you ever really looked at your ear? Something’s not right there.