Think you’ve contracted nose cancer even when it’s just a simple flu? Hypochondria is the constant worry over the state of your own health – even when there is nothing wrong. This preoccupation with the belief of possessing a serious disease remains unabated even in the face of medical reassurance that states otherwise. With determination however, hypochondria can be cured over time.
3 types of hypochondria
Looking at the three different types of hypochondria allows us to better understand it. According to Columbia’s Brian Fallon, the first type is the obsessional-anxious type who repeatedly worries, repeatedly asks for assurance, and keeps insisting that something serious may have been overlooked by the doctor.
The second type – the depressive hypochondriac – is very emotional. They can enter the doctor’s office in tears, feeling certain that he/she is on the edge of death. Feeling helpless, they may avoid going to the doctor’s altogether to avoid confronting their fears. This variety of hypochondriac is also at risk of committing suicide.
The third type, the somatoform type of hypochondriac, has many physical symptoms that exist as a result of a psychological disorder. Despite this, they believe that a serious physical condition is the cause of their problems and are more than anxious to be rid of it.
The first and hardest step is to be aware and acknowledge the illness. As you can imagine, mental illness can be very difficult to diagnose by yourself. This is true even if the patient believes that his/her own thoughts are irrational because what he/she is feeling is very real. Beyond recognising the problem, there needs to be a conscious commitment to cure it as well. This can be done through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which normally includes exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and relaxation training.
In the case of hypochondria, CBT focuses on the latter two unless it is a health anxiety caused by panic attacks. Cognitive restructuring is the training of one’s mind to replace negative beliefs and thought patterns with positivity. One way to do this is to keep a journal so that both the hypochondriac and the therapist can understand the underlying problem to address it directly
Relaxation training addresses anxiety, obsessive thoughts about physical discomfort and the perceived need to be diagnosed with an acute illness. Examples of such training include visualisation routines, controlled breathing exercises, and grounding techniques for quelling panic to reconnect with reality and get rid of self-doubt.
Another way to curb hypochondria is via medication. A class of anti-depressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help. If a hypochondriac developed his/her disorder after or during a serious illness or loss of a loved one, depression is likely to have contributed to their condition. SSRIs increase serotonin levels to regulate one’s mood and makes it hard for the person to focus on negative thoughts. Because of the potential side effects, such medications are often considered a last resort.
Aside from the two main treatments mentioned above, Supplemental Preventative Activities can also be beneficial in the long term. Taking up mind-body activities like yoga or tai chi can relax your mind and relieve muscle aches that tend to trigger obsessive worries. The controlled breathing techniques taught in such classes can help you to control a rapid heart rate, which is a symptom of anxiety. Sleep is very important as well. It improves positive thinking and decreases physical sensations that occur during sleep debt.
The cure for hypochondria is not an immediate solution. It takes time, effort, and commitment to tackle your fears. With therapy, social support, positive lifestyle changes and medication if necessary, patients will be able to step away from unfounded worries and lead a happy life.