Definition of hypochondria: the fear of being ill
Hypochondriacal disorder is the excessive fear of having a serious illness due to a misinterpretation of certain physical or psychological symptoms. A person with hypochondriasis sometimes gives the impression of being a person who just needs the attention of others by being alarmist. But this is not the case, it is a great suffering for the person suffering from it. It’s the intense fear of being sick.
What is hypochondria?
Hypochondria is the phobia of illness, the fear of being sick, and the constant feeling of interpreting certain signs of our body as having a serious pathology. As soon as the body feels a physical sensation, it refers to having contracted an illness. When you suffer from hypochondria, you look for all the information that points to the disease, on the internet, in books, from your relatives. The reassuring words of the doctors do not ease your anxiety. You are deeply convinced that you are ill, and that they are not always telling you the whole truth or that they are wrong.
This fear belongs to the family of anxiety disorders from which almost 4% of the population suffers. Moreover, it is becoming more and more widespread, and is generalized to many different situations that lead to the fear of illness and death.
Symptoms of hypochondria
If you are a hypochondriac, thoughts of illness or death are constant and obsessive. Even if your doctor tells you that there is nothing wrong and has prescribed tests that do not prove any pathology, this anxiety persists. So you spend a lot of time reading, listening and understanding the things you fear or the symptoms you experience.
Fear of being sick also means spending a lot of time thinking about the illness, which has a major impact on your daily life, whether socially (with a reduction in your social relationships and outings), professionally (avoiding certain places of work, or certain jobs because transport is a “danger zone” in terms of bacteria), or in any other area of your life that is more personal.
In addition, you spend a lot of time having medical appointments, having tests, blood tests, and calling to make emergency appointments with health professionals. You may not even feel understood by the people who are supposed to care for you. This reinforces the lack of trust you may have in them.
These symptoms must persist for more than 6 months to be considered a hypochondriac.
The cause of hypochondria
There is no single factor that causes hypochondria and it is difficult to really determine the actual factor behind this anxiety.
People with an anxious nature are more likely to be hypochondriacs and this may be due to the family environment. Without being a genetic factor, growing up in a family with constant anxieties generates anxiety in the child, who grows up with constant fears, especially fear of being sick and death.
Certain traumatic experiences can generate this anxiety. If you were ill when you were young and your symptoms were not heard, or if a relative died suddenly, this may reinforce your anxiety about the illness.
Hypochondria and depression
Some useful tips
In order to prevent this anxiety from persisting, you can follow these few tips to try to control it on your own. However, this does not replace a therapeutic follow-up.
- Set your limits: When you feel anxious about a physical sensation or about your hypochondria, and you are about to go online to look at the news, set a time limit. Give yourself 5 to 10 minutes, and only read 2 or 3 sites.
- Focus on what makes you feel good: If you ask your brain to find confirmation of your worries, it unconsciously mobilises to respond to this request. Remember that you are not objective on this subject. So focus on your body, on what feels good or neutral, and put aside the negative aspects. In the same way, when you read information, try to focus on the reassuring elements.
What about treatment?
The first treatment to be considered for hypochondria is primarily psychological. Research shows that cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT) are effective in treating this anxiety. This type of therapy helps you to learn how to manage the anxiety you feel, to deal with automatic thoughts or to find alternative solutions to reduce the appearance of signs of anxiety.
Virtual reality therapy is part of CBT. They have been shown to be up to 80% effective in dealing with anxiety. In this way, we expose ourselves to environments that can be distressing, or in which we come to understand those automatic thoughts about illness or death (like a doctor’s surgery). Our brain gradually becomes accustomed to this, accepts the physical sensations felt, the thoughts and emotions that come to us, and is desensitised to the anxieties felt in the situation.
Care is essential to ensure that the anxieties do not become more and more important, and do not generalise to other situations and create other phobias.
There has been an increase in anxiety and depression among the population, especially among people with other illnesses that require a lot of care, and especially since the arrival of Covid.
You can take the test how do you feel about Covid-19 and measure your anxiety about Covid.