The Dangers of Cyberchondria

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We’ve all done it, or at least most of us have. I know I’m certainly guilty of it. I’m talking about turning to the internet for answers to our health concerns.

Just type in our (or our loved ones) symptoms and away we go. That rash we have? Turns out it could be anything from contact dermatitis to cancer. Which is it? Not sure? Well, search some more. There is always another website to check. And as many of us know, these searches can be never-ending.

Excessively scouring the internet for answers to our health concerns is known as cyberchondria. One in three people, among the millions who seek health information in this manner, report feeling more anxious after searching for answers than before. Yet they keep searching even as their worry escalates. Cyberchondria has the potential to disrupt many aspects of a person’s life and studies have even linked it to depression. Those with cyberchondria tend to either avoid going to their doctor, or go too much — both out of fear.

What drives people to engage in a behavior that often makes them feel worse than before?

Thomas Fergus, a psychology professor at Baylor University, links cyberchondria to a dysfunctional web of metacognitive beliefs, which are really just thoughts about thinking. We all have these types of belief systems. For example, it is considered normal to believe that deliberating over a challenging problem will lead to a satisfying solution. In cyberchondria, however, metacognitive beliefs morph into a mental trap — people search online health content incessantly.

Dr. Fergus and Marcantonio Spada, an academic psychologist at London South Bank University, have shown that these metacognitive beliefs in cyberchondria overlap somewhat with those of anxiety disorders. People with health anxiety, for example, hold maladjusted views about the role worry plays in maintaining their emotional and physical well-being. It is these same sorts of dysfunctional belief systems, Fergus says, “that send people with cyberchondria back for long sessions at the computer.”

In 2018, Fergus and Spada published research that, not surprisingly, links cyberchondria with features of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD perform compulsions to ease their anxiety, and those with cyberchondria engage in ritualistic searches for health information to dispel their anxiety. In both cases, people will only stop when they feel certain that all is well. As many of us know, online health content is too vast to allow us to be certain about anything. In fact, certainty is not actually attainable when it comes to most aspects of our lives.

So how can we escape the vicious cycle of cyberchondria? Appropriate therapies for anxiety disorders such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and even antidepressants might be helpful. In addition, metacognitive approaches that encourage people to question the value of going online to relieve their anxiety can be beneficial.

There is another solution to spending countless hours on the internet trying to figure out your latest ailment. Go see your doctor for a proper diagnosis — once. Then you can use the other therapies mentioned to learn how to not only stop searching for answers, but to also learn to accept the feelings of uncertainty that are inevitably connected to our health.

The Dangers of Cyberchondria

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Psychology Around the Net: April 6, 2019

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This week’s Psychology Around the Net dives into how to stop worrying about what other people think of you, ways to defeat procrastination, why pets can help boost physical and mental health (especially in older adults), and more.

Enjoy!

Stop Worrying About What Others Think of You: 7 Tips for Feeling Better: The fear of rejection is at the root of caring what someone thinks of you. Learn how to understand what “rejection” really means, use rejection (when it actually happens) as a brilliant opportunity for growth, how to embrace your individuality, and more to overcome your fear of rejection and truly stop worrying what other people think about you.

How to Defeat Procrastination with the Psychology of Emotional Intelligence: A step-by-step guide to overcoming procrastination by using the psychology of emotion regulation and emotional intelligence, with some extra tips and tricks to boot? Sign me up! (Additionally, you might want to find out how anxiety affects procrastination.)

Here’s One Big Way To Help Working Mothers Thrive: This new study tackles how to reduce a mother’s work-family conflict and employment-related guilt.

Why It’s a Problem If ‘Joker’ Connects Mental Illness to Villainy: While most portrayals of The Joker have involved a character backstory that’s mysterious, if not outright nonexistent, there are hints that this new Joker will include not only a backstory, but a backstory that includes mental illness linked to becoming a violent criminal. However, shouldn’t we pause and determine whether the story links mental illness in general with violent and criminal behavior, or whether the story features one character who has a mental illness that drove him to violent criminal behavior?

Poll: Pets Help Older Adults Cope with Health Issues, Get Active, and Connect with Others: According to a recent national poll, pets can help older adults deal with physical and mental health issues; however, for some (18 percent of participants), pets bring various strains (for example, financial burdens and problems that arise from putting a pet’s needs before your own). Which is it for you?

What We Know and Don’t Know about How Mass Trauma Affects Mental Health: Researchers are working to figure out who is at most risk of suicide and other types of self-harm after mass trauma events such as wars and political violence, natural disasters, and — especially prevalent in today’s troubled climate — mass shootings, including school shootings.

Psychology Around the Net: April 6, 2019

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Psychology Around the Net: March 30, 2019

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Do you struggle breaking the ice during social or networking situations? Are you interested in spring cleaning your energy this weekend? Have you had some negative mental health experiences with fitness apps?

We’ve got the latest on each of these and more in this week’s Psychology Around the Net!

Psychologists Agree: ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Is the Only Icebreaker You’ll Ever Need: Talking to new people at a social function or networking event can be tough, especially for people with social anxiety. How do you get their attention? How do you start talking to them? How do you break the ice? Psychologists say the best way to do all that is with four simple words: tell me about yourself. Personally, I kind of freeze up and experience more anxiety when people ask me to tell them about myself (OMG what do I say?!), but here are six tips to help us all navigate the “tell me about yourself” process from start to finish.

Air Pollution Tied to Mental Health Issues in Teenagers: A recent study involving more than 2,000 British teenagers whose health researchers followed from birth until they turned 18 years old has associated urban air pollution with an increased risk for psychotic experiences. According to the study, almost a third of the participants reported they had experienced at least one psychotic experience, ranging from mild paranoia to a more severe psychotic symptom, since the age of 12.

9 Ways to ‘Spring Clean’ Your Energy: Entertaining “blah” thoughts, cluttered and dusty personal space, losing motivation to keep up healthy routines — you have to admit, these and others are ways your energy can get junked up during the dark winter months. Now that spring is here, let’s look at some of the ways you can clean that energy up.

These ‘Wear Your Meds’ Buttons Tackle the Stigma of Taking Mental Illness Drugs: Have y’all heard of the #WearYourMeds movement started by Lauren Weiss? Essentially, you wear a button (or buttons, depending) that depicts the mental health medication you take (alternatively, you can purchase a button that reads “Wear Your Meds”) as a way to, ideally, act as a conversation starter to promote mental health awareness. Although it’s not affiliated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), all proceeds do go to NAMI. Thoughts?

Sports Psychologists Say Running Apps May Be Damaging Your Health: My knee-jerk reaction to this title was, “What?! I love my C25K app!” After reading the article, I realized the professionals make some good points. Sports psychologists Dr. Andrew Wood and Dr. Martin Turner believe fitness apps (and running apps in particular), which generally are designed to help us meet certain fitness or training goals, could do us more harm than good by contributing to an unhealthy relationship with exercise (and our need for social media validation).

Pope Francis Wants Psychological Testing to Prevent Problem Priests. But Can It Really Do That? ICYMI: The Catholic Church is dealing with one sexual abuse scandal after another lately. Now, Pope Francis has announced a policy he wants to implement worldwide — one that would, ideally, prevent any man from becoming a priest if he can’t pass a psychological evaluation proving he’s suited to a life of chastity. However, scholars, researchers, and even others in the Church are questioning whether or not this is actually possible.

Psychology Around the Net: March 30, 2019

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Should Mental Health Determine Pain Treatment Options?

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Patients with a mental health condition might have a hard time accessing opioids for pain relief, while patients with unexplained pain are often referred to psychiatric care, which does little to alleviate their symptoms. Finding treatment can be frustrating and humiliating.

Four years ago, Dez Nelson’s pain management clinic demanded that she complete a visit with a psychologist. Nelson was surprised, since she had no history of mental illness, but she didn’t feel that she could push back on the request.

“Of course I said okay — I didn’t want to lose my treatment,” Nelson told The Fix. “I was not happy about it, but I did it.”

Nelson, 38, went to the appointment and had a mixed experience with the psychologist. She hasn’t been back since and the pain clinic hasn’t asked her to visit a psychologist again. Still, Nelson said that the experience highlighted — yet again — the discrimination pain patients face.

“It was a condition of my continued care,” she said. “It seemed like they’re bringing it up in a beneficial light, as part of a multi-pronged approach to pain care. But I don’t think [mental health treatment] should be forced on a patient who doesn’t think they need it.”

Chronic pain and mental illness are among the most stigmatized conditions in modern medicine. The conditions frequently intersect and change the way that patients are cared for and treated. Patients who have a mental illness might have a hard time accessing opioids for pain relief, while patients with unexplained pain are often referred to psychiatric care, which does little to alleviate their physical symptoms. At the same time, research suggests there is a strong connection between mental health and pain: depression can cause painful physical symptoms, while living with chronic pain can cause people to become depressed.

All of this makes treating chronic pain and mental illness complex and frustrating for doctors and patients alike.

A Mental Health Diagnosis Affects the Way Your Doctor Treats You

Elizabeth* is a professor in her mid-thirties who had undiagnosed Lyme disease for eight years. Her Lyme contributed to the development of an autoimmune disease that has led to widespread inflammatory and nerve pain throughout her body. Elizabeth also has bipolar disorder. Despite the fact that she has been stable on medication for a decade, her mental health diagnosis complicates her pain treatment.

“Doctors’ demeanor changes when I tell them my medications. When I say I have bipolar disorder, it’s a whole different ballpark. To them that’s clearly a risk factor and red flag for drug abuse,” Elizabeth said.

Opioids are one of the few treatments Elizabeth has found that works to alleviate her pain. But she also takes benzodiazepines on an as-needed basis to control her anxiety (usually once a week). Even though Elizabeth is well aware of the risk of combining the two medications and knows better than to take the two pills together, doctors refuse to prescribe both. They don’t seem to trust her not to abuse them.

“I could tell them that I wouldn’t take them together. But that’s not a valid choice,” Elizabeth said.

While doctors were extremely cautious about this drug interaction, they didn’t focus on another drug-related risk: medications that are used to treat nerve pain can cause adverse reactions in patients with bipolar disorder. No one warned Elizabeth of this danger, and she ended up being hospitalized for psychosis after a long stretch of stability.

“The doctors didn’t talk about it because it’s just a side effect, not a liability concern,” she said.

On the flip-side, Elizabeth has experienced psychiatric providers who were skeptical of her pain diagnosis.

“They wrote in my chart that I had a delusion that I had Lyme disease,” she said…

Find out more about the complications of treating pain in patients with mental illness, the dangers of confusing one’s body with one’s psyche, and the “time bomb” of untreated pain in the original article Should Your Mental Health Determine How Your Pain Is Treated? at The Fix.

Should Mental Health Determine Pain Treatment Options?

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Psychology Around the Net: March 16, 2019

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Hello, lovers of all things psychology, psychiatry, and mental health related!

Today we’re going to take a look at how vitamins and other supplements don’t ward off depression, why it’s important not to get swept up in “boutique” wellness trends (and what to do instead), the ways in which you can manipulate your brain to completely forget something (really?), and more.

Enjoy!

Study: Diet Supplements Don’t Ward Off Depression: New research involving more than 1,000 overweight or obese participants located in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom who were at risk for depression — but not currently depressed — showed that taking vitamins and other supplements won’t prevent depression; however, better eating habits might help.

Are Eyes the Window to Our Mistakes? Researchers from the University of Arizona report that because the size of our pupils change when we make certain types of mistakes, we might have a glimpse into what’s going on in our brains when we make, err, crappy decisions.

When It Comes to Mental Health Forget the Wellness Trends and Just Keep Moving to Feel Your Best: Boutique wellness centers have become so much of a thing that many people — especially those who are just starting out with exercise — are either a) getting too stressed from this “ideal way” incorporating itself into every area of their everyday lives to continue, b) getting too burnt out to continue, or c) becoming too intimidated to even start. Pip Black, founder of Frame, says when this is the case, ditch the trends and just focus on moving, getting some outdoor time, and always reminding yourself tomorrow is a new day.

Stop Using the Words ‘At Least’ to Comfort: Says Lifehacker’s Meghan Moravcik Walbert, “Most people who use ‘At least…’ to try to comfort are well-meaning. They think they’re being helpful by pointing out the ‘bright side.’ But people in pain do not want to see the bright side; they want to feel heard and understood.”

Yes, It’s Possible to Intentionally Forget Something—Here’s How: Ah, that sounds lovely, but be warned: you’re probably going to have to spend a lot of time remembering it before you can actually forget it.

ACLU Says Schools Need More Mental Health Professionals, Not Police: According to a recently released report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nearly one-third of public school students (that’s more than 14 million kids) attend schools that have police officers but not nurses, psychologists, counselors, or social workers.

Psychology Around the Net: March 16, 2019

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Psychology Around the Net: March 9, 2019

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Happy Saturday (or whatever day you’re reading this) sweet readers!

This week’s Psychology Around the Net covers a personal account of how running helped one author’s anxiety and fear, how green spaces work to boost your well-being and social connections, why “hip” office settings aren’t benefiting employees the way employers would like them to, and more.

Enjoy!

Moving the Body, Boosting the Mind: Running Your Way to Better Mental Health: Bella Mackie, author of Jog On: How Running Saved My Life, weighs in on how physical activity (specifically, running) helped release her from a life of anxiety, fear, and intrusive thoughts.

Hyperhidrosis Associated with Higher Anxiety, Depression, ADD: New research shows patients who have primary hyperhidrosis — “a rare disorder characterized by excessive sweating on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, in the armpits (axillary), in the groin area, and/or under the breasts” — are significantly more likely to develop mental health conditions such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), anxiety, and depression.

Green Spaces Can Help You Trust Strangers: Last week I directed you to research about how growing up in an area lacking in green spaces can contribute to depression in adult years; now, we learn from a new case study about how green spaces and other colorful urban design elements can increase the well-being and social connections among the city’s residents.

Physician Mental Health: The Role of Self-Compassion and Detachment: Finding the professional balance between showing compassion to and engaging emotionally with their patients can leave medical providers suppressing their feelings, doing a disservice to their own mental health and well-being. Enter REVAMP.

Hip Offices Are Part of Our Mental Health Crisis. Here’s Why: Taking the occasional mental health day has become the corporate cure-all for employees experiencing burnout, but now offices are trying to create “hip,” “cool” workplace environments in an attempt to prevent burnout and even help employee mental health. According to one entrepreneur, these aren’t effective methods.

Motivation Through Appreciation: The Science Behind a Happy Workplace: On that note, here’s a look at how something as seemingly simple as employee appreciation can boost happiness and motivation. So, what are some super basic yet super effective ways employers can show appreciation to their employees?

Psychology Around the Net: March 9, 2019

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