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Health anxiety and cyberchondria during COVID-19

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Health anxiety and cyberchondria during COVID-19



With so much news and current understandable anxiety about the Corona virus and its variants, we can all be forgiven for taking extra care about our personal health right now. Some say that knowledge is power, but that only works provided it comes from the right and reliable source, although we need to be careful about the information we share too. So let’s spread facts, not fear. For example, here are three sites that we can both trust and rely on for up to the minute advice on flu:


  • The NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

  • The World Health Organisation page on Corona Virus COVID-19 – https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

  • Public Health England: Guidance on social distancing – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults

We should take care of other sources – for example second-hand reporting in a newspaper or social media post, might take that information and twist it to suit an agenda, rather than being balanced and appropriate for your general use (like selling flu remedies, or encouraging panic buying ).


What happens when these thoughts or this behaviour gets out of hand?


The condition known as Health Anxiety is a known mental health issue, and means someone constantly checking their symptoms each day, or over-cleaning their house, in case we might have symptoms of a specific disease like cancer or in this current time, COVID-19 . This sort of anxiety can add up with other depression or OCD behaviours into a perfect storm.


There is a new-comer to the anxiety world – Cyberchondria


This means having excessive thoughts and engaging in behaviours like constantly checking the internet for symptoms or advice that goes beyond the normal or understandable concern for the vulnerable or elderly. This has been described as a digital compulsive syndrome in a scientific paper recently published by researchers in Italy, UK, America and Australia.

Please be assured that if you are at all vulnerable to your health, or have an existing condition that requires careful monitoring, then there is absolutely nothing wrong in anyone being particular about their health and personal hygiene. For these people it is appropriate to take more care than normal and to keep in touch with their medical advisers.


What can we do?


If you know or are worried about someone who fits this description of undue anxiety about their health for little or no reason, then please be assured there is something we can do about finding relief for this emotional suffering.

We can start by only getting worried about things we can actually do something about, or can change, and let go of the things we cannot control or influence.

Regular problem solving is NOT worrying. It’s taking action.

Try writing a list of all the things you are thinking about and see if that helps you to decide whether there is something you can do or not, and to help you decide what you that might look like. Letting go of the things we can’t change helps us to remain calm.


Focus on what you can do:


  • Turn off the news and limit your social media checking

  • Follow government recommendations

  • Practice self-care and self-compassion, healthy living is about balance

  • Socially isolate, but keep in touch with others regularly by phone or video-call or by writing a letter

  • Explain your anxieties with your loved ones, so they can understand and keep in touch

  • Ask them not to talk about coronavirus with you

  • Find things to do at home, or read that book you always set by the bed but never get to before you fall asleep

  • Learn or practice meditation and mindfulness – there are lots of online free resources

  • We can offer to be in touch with someone on a daily basis by phone or video-call if possible, to check in with how their anxiety levels are doing at this time

  • Speak to your regular mental health therapist about getting through times of crisis, they will understand and provide you with support

  • Keep taking your medication regularly, ask for help in collecting prescribed medicines from the pharmacy – the pharmacist may have a delivery service

  • Phone or Video-call a friend to distract yourself if things get too panicky

  • Get some time outside each day – walk around the block, or do some gardening – it is important to keep up stamina and take exercise

  • Embrace our inner Winnie the Pooh and remember that we’re all coming through tough times, but we have done it before and come through – we will do it again. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think” (AA Milne)


Let go of things you can’t control, like:


  1. Predicting what will happen next

  2. The actions of other people, for example their motives for buying up all the toilet paper

  3. Whether other people will follow the rules of social distancing or hand hygiene, especially on public transport

  4. How long this uncertainty will last

  5. Whether you will get ill with flu or not on top of COVID risks

  6. How mildly or dangerously this might affect you

At the Green Door Clinic we provide relief for sufferers of all generalised anxiety disorders using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Schema Therapy and other integrative therapy modalities that can help us to find calm in the middle of this storm, like mindfulness, yoga and meditation. If you think you might have a problem then please contact us using the “Talk with us” page on this website, or by emailing help@greendoorclinic.com or by phone to speak directly to our Director of psychotherapy, Jenny Dew, who can help you to find a suitable therapist or clinician matching your needs.

Doing this before you approach your GP (particularly if you are a frequent user) or phoning 111, is recommended so that their communication lines can remain clear for those who have genuine symptoms of whatever disease or discomfort, that need professional medical attention whether urgent or chronic. Don’t forget there is also the Samaritans ( tel 116123 which is a free of charge number ) to talk to someone if you are not sure whether you might be affected by this or any other mental health disorder.

samaritans.org

A more comprehensive list of self-support organisations on all sorts of topics can be found at blurtitout.org





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