We know self-diagnosing is such a bad idea: it starts off as a simple pain in your elbow. Then, a few minutes later via Google, and you've already diagnosed yourself with a chronic illness.
Hypochondria among well people worrying about their health has reached new levels, reported The Daily Telegraph, with psychologists warning that "growing use of the internet has led to what they have termed “cyberchondria”."
Cyberchondria isn't a new term - it has been used since the 90s, but researchers have found that people who look up conditions on the net feel worse after having done so.
CYBERCHONDRIAC: a person who compulsively searches the Internet for information about particular real or imagined symptoms of illness
In the latest study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, said The Daily Telegraph, Dr Thomas Fergus, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, found that "fearing a catastrophic disease or injury, unfounded or not, can trigger worries about disability, job loss and potential medical bills."
The research showed about eight in 10 American adults look for medical information on the internet, and Dr Fergus sampled 512 healthy people with an average age of 33 to analyse how it affected their anxiety.
He used several measures, reported Sciencedaily.com, and among them was a scale where they assessed statements such as "I always want to know what the future has in store for me" and "I spend most of my time worrying about my health".
He added: "While fearing the worst when it comes to health is not new, the online glut of medical information -- some of it from questionable sources -- may be more disturbing than that contained in medical manuals that people consult or obtain directly from a doctor."
A crucial thing to bear in mind is that when sites list a range of symptoms, these are often ordinary things that most people might have.
Writing eloquently on HuffPost US, Richard C. Senelick, M.D wrote: "In 2008, Microsoft published the results of a large study that looked at how people search the Internet for health related information. They looked at 40 million page samples for three common symptoms -- headaches, muscle twitches and chest pain. What they found was that search engines, unlike physicians, do not understand "diagnostic reasoning" and therefore do not discriminate between common benign disorders and less common serious problems.
"The ranking and appearance on a search page is not in the order of how likely it is to be that individual's problem. A physician will consider many variables such as a person's age, past history, associated medical problems and symptoms, while factoring in the level of anxiety, depression or other emotional problems. The Internet is impersonal and does not currently take these other factors into account."
FIVE SIGNS YOU HAVE CYBERCHONDRIA
- You focus on the worst possible case scenario
- You can't remember the last condition you had that you didn't look up online
- You keep searching for signs your condition is more serious than it is
- You feel worse when you stop using the computer
- You aren't 100% sure about your symptoms
When you find yourself getting worked up, try these techniques from HuffPost US OWN:
Quick Body Scan
To help quiet your mind and boost awareness of the sensations in your body, sit or lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Start by drawing your attention to different parts of your physical body, and checking in with how they feel. You can begin at the feet and work your way up to the head, noticing and releasing any tension as you go. A thorough <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7650123" target="_blank">body scan meditation</a> might last around 10 minutes, but you can quickly complete the exercise in a minute or less as a way to bring back your wandering mind to the physical present.
Email is one of the biggest Internet stressors, and when we're at our desks dealing with a pile of unread messages and a growing "follow-up" folder, it's easy to get a little anxious. In the book "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life," Dr. Lillian Cheung and Zen master Thich Naht Hahn outline a brief email meditation to practice before you hit the "send" button. <a href="http://www.savorthebook.com/sites/default/files/Email%20Meditation.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a> for the full instructions.
Listen To Nature Sounds
According to Dr. Kathleen Hall, stress expert and founder of the Mindful Living Network, nature sounds can do wonders to reduce stress. Hall recommends sitting quietly for one to three minutes and listening to the sounds of natural landscapes, like oceans, rainforests or brooks. "There are some great apps that have sounds of whales or birds or cats purring ... It immediately stops the production of stress hormones," Hall tells the Huffington Post.
Even if it doesn't feel natural at first, making time for a quick laugh -- whether it's by watching a silly animal video or reminding yourself of a funny joke -- can help bust you out of a stressful headspace. Laughter releases endorphins in the brain and relaxes the muscles, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034" target="_blank">according to the Mayo Clinic</a>.
Breathly deeply in and out for just one minute can help to refresh your mind and reset your body. Harvard University research in the 1970s conducted by<a href="http://www.relaxationresponse.org/" target="_blank"> Dr. Herbert Benson</a> found that short periods of meditation that focused on the breath had the power to alter the body's stress responses, activating the "relaxation response." Find a quiet place to sit for one minute, focusing on breathing deeply in and out and letting go of distracting thoughts.
The part of the brain that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/05/science/05angier.html?_r=0" target="_blank">processes smells</a> is located in close proximity to that which governs emotion and memory, so scent can be a powerful way to induce pleasant emotions and calm the mind. Essential oils can be particularly effective -- according to a 2008 study published in <em>Holistic Nursing Practice</em>, essential oils actually reduced stress perception in nurses working in intensive care unit settings. Try keeping ylang ylang, peppermint or lavender essential oils at your desk and applying a small amount on the skin when you start feeling stressed.
Neck & Shoulder Massage
Help soothe tense muscles in the neck and shoulders (also known as the <a href="https://www.uhcwest.com/vgn/images/portal/cit_60701/600626161_AAHS_RYST_PEW206415.pdf" target="_blank">"stress triangle"</a>) by giving yourself a brief massage. But make sure it's not a mindless massage while staring at the computer -- for the full de-stressing benefits, stop what you're doing and bring mindful awareness to the muscle tension you feel, as well as the release of that tension.
The free motion and stretching movements of dance can help to release tension from the body and lift your spirits. Exercise in any form can act as a stress reliever by pumping up endorphins, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-and-stress/SR00036" target="_blank">according to the Mayo Clinic</a>, and dancing can be a particularly enjoyable way to blow off steam for many people. Put a favorite song on your headphones, step away from the computer, and let loose for a minute -- it's almost guaranteed to boost your mood.