Hypochondria is one of the most widespread conditions of people in recent years. Very often this is confused with one’s “way of being”, with one’s “personality”, with “meaningless concern”, with “attention seeking” and so on. At first glance things may seem that way and it’s no wonder that people can easily confuse hypochondria with those mentioned. The problem, however, is that hypochondria is not exactly a choice, it is not a way of being, it is not related to personality and no matter how tempting it is to think that it is a need of attention, it is not.
Hypochondria, as a condition, has undergone some changes in the way it was conceptualized, and at this time it is called Nosophobic Disorder, but the symptomatology is the same. In this article we will refer to this disorder using the old name.
It is very common for peope to think about others that they suffer from hypochondria, erroneously, when they see them more worried about their health than what is believed to be normal. But this does not make people hypochondriac. To avoid confusion of any kind, in this article I will describe what hypochondria looks like, what it means, how to recognize it in yourself or in those around you and what needs to be done.
To begin with, it must be made very clear that hypochondria is a condition, not a matter of anyone’s choice. You do not choose to be hypochondriac and you do not simply choose not to be. You can stop feeling and acting like this only with specialized help. This condition must be treated seriously and the help of a specialist must be required in order to overcome this situation. Even though it may look like only worrying , this goes beyond the simple concern arising from some physical symptoms.
People who suffer from hypochondria are thinking about very serious diseases and suspect that they have such one. They may also live in anticipatory fear of a terminal illness that may occur in the future. Symptoms of the expected deseases are not present or if there are some they don’t remain at a significant level, hypochondria causing more psychological than physical discomfort. Somatizations are rarely present at all. However, people suffering from hypochondria are much more worried about minor symptoms than it would be normal. Lots of people would easily say that hypochondriacs are drama queens. Although it may seem like this, on the inside this concern is real, it makes sense, it is uncontrollable and overwhelming.
Another symptom is exaggerated and eternal quest for medical control. Hypochondrias are often going to doctors to check their symptoms in order to prevent serious illness. They also self-examinate themselves very often. Hypochondriacs spend much of their day searching for information about illnesses on the Internet, associating them with the symptoms. They usually talk to their loved ones only about it. On the opposite side, some of them ,out of strong fear of not finding out that they are suffering from a serious illness, do not go to the doctor at all and avoid even the necessary checks.
For a diagnosis to be made it is necessary that the described manifestations to last for more than six months and to not be better explained by another disorder such as panic disorder or other anxiety disorders that may resemble.
What is important to know is that hypochondria is not something that humans can control, it is not a choice, as I said before, but it is a health issue, it requires an intervention made by a specialist. Many of the mental illnesses occur as a result of trauma. Most likely, if you look at the life of a person suffering from hypochondria you will find events or maybe even a lifestyle that justifies this manifestation. Most of the time hypochondria appears in adults but it is visible even from adolescence. Sometimes the signs may be subtle, but over time they will become more easy to spot.
The reason why psychological intervention is very useful in this context is that hypochondria has its roots in traumatic experiences and with a psychologist people can benefit from a proper healing process. Often a behavior of hyperprotective parenting can lead to the development of hypochondria, over time. If one of the parents suffers from this disorder, it is very possible for the child to develop it and this is why it is important for the parents to be treated firts. In fact, any obsession with health and illness that parents have will affect their children, so pay attention to children’s exposure to these things.
It takes a lot of understanding from those around because hypochondria is a painful condition that involves a lot of fear, stress and feelings of terror. To think and believe that you have a serious illness or that you can have it at any time is frightening to everyone and it ruins your happiness, and the feelings you experience are traumatic themselves. It takes patience, understanding from the close ones, but also a specialized intervention of a psychologist to make it better. It is not helpful if hypochondriacs are disputed, judged, criticized and advised “to stop thinking about diseases”. Hypochondria already involves feelings of fear, pain, stress, loneliness so there is no need for additional problems created by close ones.
Social support is and has been important as a protective factor that can help people recover more easily and faster. But for this to happen it is necessary that the close people offer warmth, containment, understanding, support, encouragement, affection to those suffering from hypochondria and to support them in asking for specialized help. Living with hypochondria is not mandatory and it is a pity to let ourselves or others around us suffer and not ask for help.