Home | News | ‘Do I have cyberchondria?’: Helping people stay away from Dr Google

‘Do I have cyberchondria?’: Helping people stay away from Dr Google

‘Do I have…’

Insert any disease name and there’s a good chance the question has popped up on more than a few Google searches.

And people who take obsessional worrying about health online might find that the only ailment they’re dealing with is a bought of cyberchondria.

The term describes the anxiety experienced as a result of excessive web searches about symptoms or diseases, and researchers from UNSW Sydney and the University of Leicester have looked at one way to help people cope with it.

The team tested an online treatment program based on cognitive behaviour therapy to help reduce cyberchondria in 41 people with severe health anxiety.

Participants completed six online CBT modules over 12 weeks and had phone support from a psychologist.

They were also taught to develop alternative and neutral explanations for their symptoms to reduce catastrophic thinking, and strategies to reduce excessive body hypervigilance and checking.

“We found the online treatment was more effective at reducing cyberchondria than the control group,” co-author Associate Professor Jill Newby said in a piece for The Conversation.

“It helped reduce the frequency of online searches, how upsetting the searching was, and improved participants’ ability to control their searching. Importantly, these behavioural changes were linked to improvements in health anxiety.”

Newby also put forward top tips from the treatment program. They were:

Be aware of your searching – don’t just search on auto-pilot.

Understand how web searches work – top search results are not necessarily the most likely explanation for your symptoms.

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.

Challenge your thoughts – by thinking of alternative explanations for your symptoms.

Use other strategies to cut down, and prevent you from searching – focus on scheduling these activities at your high-risk times.

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,” Newby said.

The strategies might be enough to stop people from Googling ‘Do I have cyberchondria?’

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