Cyberchondria: How dangerous is it to search for symptoms online?

Today, when we feel unwell, the first source where we often turn for help is not a doctor, but the all-knowing World Wide Web. It’s simple and affordable. It is enough to drive a query into the search engine and dive into the introspection of the physical state. The availability of information and the truth in many ways makes life easier. However, you should not assume that a soulless search engine will make the right diagnosis and become a salvation for you. This is dangerous not only from the point of view of physical well-being, but also psychological. People who are overly involved in the process of finding a diagnosis via the Internet risk becoming cyberchondriacs. What is the phenomenon, what are its signs and how to get rid of cyberchondria, you will learn from this article.

What is cyberchondria?

Cyberchondria is a psychological and emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive search for information about symptoms (imaginary or real), followed by an independent statement of the intended diagnosis. The term consists of two words “cybernetic hypochondria”. It emerged with the expansion of the World Wide Web in 2001. At the same time, the British media published data that citizens of the Foggy Albion began to spend too much time on medical sites. It was during this period that the number of cases when people came to the doctor’s appointment with an already invented diagnosis increased. At that time, the phrase “acute headache” was leading the list of requests.Cyberchondria: How dangerous is it to search for symptoms online?

In light of recent events, when the world was gripped by a general panic associated with the spread of the coronavirus, cyberchondria covered humanity with a new wave.

Why Googling symptoms is dangerous

The phrase “acute headache” was in the top of the search, as the query covered 25% of the total number for the study period. And do you know what all these users received as a response? “Brain tumor”. This is despite the fact that only 0.0002% of the population of our planet suffers from such a terrible diagnosis.

Why did the answer “brain cancer” rise so high? After all, more often an acute headache is caused, for example, by excessive coffee consumption or overwork. Eric Horwitz, who holds a degree in medicine, explains this phenomenon by saying that at the level of the unconscious person, information that is vividly colored by emotions “clings”. What to do with it to the user depends only on his objectivity and the device of the psyche.

Cyberchondria is the result of a cognitive error of thinking caused by an unjustifiably high attention to terrible diseases. The first positions in the output of information about them are due to factors related to the device of the search engine, and not with the frequency of occurrence in real life.

Signs of cyberchondria

At the level of the unconscious, our thinking often focuses on the negative, while the positive news is released from the attention. This is due to the presence of the instinct of self-preservation and the need to always be on the alert. There is no escape from the basic firmware, as they provide security and contribute to prolonging life. However, if you notice the following behaviors for yourself or your loved ones, the line between common sense and obsession has already been crossed.

Signs of a cyberchondriac:

  • Constant monitoring of information about your illness;
  • Excessive health concerns without objective reasons;
  • The tendency to independently determine the diagnosis, based only on data found in unverified sources;
  • Tendency to exaggerate;
  • Lack of objectivity in judgments and self-criticism;
  • Deterioration of health (moral and physical) after the next dose of information received.

Survey statistics show that 75% -80% of users trust information from the Internet, without checking the reliability and authority of its source. And 35% boldly make a diagnosis based only on the data obtained in the network. Consultations with a specialist such a person prefers passing online tests and visiting medical web portals.

How to deal with cyberchondria

The authority of “Dr. Google” is very difficult to shake, especially if the signs of addiction are already on the face. But there are tips that will help a person become more objective.

Allow yourself to doubt

Doubt everything that passes through you. Often, information that causes strong emotions is not completely objective. Doubt is not a sign of uncertainty. Doubt indicates a desire to see the full picture of what is happening. Consider your problem and your attitude to it from different angles, because segmentation of thinking forms a narrow corridor in your mind. It is impossible to see reality from this corridor. Only one facet of it, and it tends to distort reality very much.

Filter information

If it is difficult to restrain your desire to Google the disease, give yourself a partial relief, but do it correctly. Distinguish a source that respects its reputation from a mediocre one. About the good level of the site says:

  • high quality content with an indication of a competent author in this matter;
  • well-written, clear and well-founded information;
  • availability of feedback;
  • links to medical sources and studies confirming the authenticity of the data;
  • the absence of content of a manipulative nature;
  • the absence of emotionally colored content that imposes a certain point of view on the reader.

Acknowledge your fears

Most cyberchondriacs are terrified of doctors and treatment in hospital walls, even if they are not in danger. Finding a solution to the problem through the Internet is really a search for hope that the situation is under control and the disease can be dealt with independently. However, at the level of the unconscious, true fear continues to exist in a suppressed form. It is this suppression that causes psychosis. The cyberchondriac understands that he is acting irrationally, but the fear of taking responsibility for his own health is stronger than this understanding.
Control your thoughts

The human brain is a little-studied mechanism, and the generation of thoughts is the product of our more often unconscious attitude to this process. The anxiety of reflection leads a person into a negative state, gaining full control over his condition. This blocks the ability to think soberly, to see not only threats, but also prospects. Unfortunately, the endless flow of different-quality information makes you think about everything at once. Therefore, separate the seeds from the chaff, otherwise an overabundance of negativity will drag you into psychosis.
Enable offline mode

This concept implies a complete rest from the Internet. A kind of reboot is recommended for everyone, regardless of whether you are prone to Internet addiction or not. To one degree or another, modern people have already become hostages of the world Wide web, so it is simply necessary to temporarily drop out of the system. The most effective ways: doing what you love, physical activity, unity with nature, contact with loved ones and pleasant people, attending an interesting event or vacation. In a word, replacing the negative with the positive. This will help you get out of the abyss of gloomy thoughts and tune in to the reality in which everything is good.
Do not self-diagnose and self-medicate

This is dangerous and it is not known what consequences it will lead to in the future. The results of independent manipulations with your own body can be irreversible, and time is lost. As much as I hate the idea of going to the doctor, sometimes it’s the smartest thing to do.

Ask for help

First of all, we are talking about a doctor working on the profile of the alleged disease. Only such a specialist will clarify the essence of what is happening and prescribe appropriate tests. If the trip to him is associated with severe anxiety, it is possible to immediately visit a therapist or talk to a person you trust. So you will learn to cope with anxiety, and most importantly, to understand the motives of fears and prepare for further steps.

The search engine is a ruthless mechanism whose function is only to give out information. Its work is aimed at finding all possible answers and improving the effectiveness of the result in the search results. And the search engine works with a query, not with a person. The task of a person in the analysis of the information received is to be guided by awareness and a sober look. After all, physical health directly depends on our mental balance.

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