What is ‘cyberchondria’.
The term “cyberchondria” ( also known as Googlitis )describes the anxiety we experience as a result of excessive web searches about symptoms or diseases.
It’s not an official diagnosis, but is an obvious play on the word “hypochondria”, now known as health anxiety. It’s obsessional worrying about health, online.
Some argue cyberchondria is simply a modern form of health anxiety. But studies show even people who don’t normally worry about their health can see their concerns spiral after conducting an initial web search.
Cyberchondria is when searching is:
- excessive: searching for too long, or too often
- difficult to control: you have difficulty controlling, stopping or preventing searching
- distressing: it causes a lot of distress, anxiety or fear
- impairing: it has an impact on your day-to-day life.
If this sounds like you, there’s help.
So, what can I do?
Here are our top tips from the treatment program:
- be aware of your searching: don’t just search on auto-pilot. Take note of when, where, how often, and what you are searching about. Keep track of this for several days so you can spot the warning signs and high-risk times for when you’re more likely to get stuck in excessive searching. Then you can make a plan to do other things at those times
- understand how web searches work: web search algorithms are mysterious beasts. But top search results are not necessarily the most likely explanation for your symptoms. Top search results are often click-bait – the rare, but fascinating and horrific stories about illness we can’t help clicking on (not the boring stuff)
- be smart about how you search: limit yourself to websites with reliable, high quality, balanced information such as government-run websites and/or those written by medical professionals. Stay away from blogs, forums, testimonials or social media
- challenge your thoughts by thinking of alternative explanations for your symptoms: for example, even though you think your eye twitch might be motor neuron disease, what about a much more likely explanation, such as staring at the computer screen too much
- use other strategies to cut down, and prevent you from searching: focus on scheduling these activities at your high-risk times. These can be absorbing activities that take your focus and can distract you; or you can use relaxation strategies to calm your mind and body
- surf the urge: rather than searching straight away when you feel the urge to search about your symptoms, put it off for a bit, and see how the urge to search reduces over time.
And if those don’t help, consult a doctor or psychologist.