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Why Do I Google My Symptoms Even Though it Makes Me Anxious?

This week in the Coping newsletter: The internet is not a good doctor.
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Welcome to Coping, Episode Nineteen.

If you've ever felt a weird pain in your side and found yourself in a late-night click-binge—followed by the composition of your last will and testament—you know how quickly some innocuous symptom can turn into "probably cancer."

Mental health concerns are not exempt. If you Google the phrase "depression test," you aren't likely to stumble upon the Beck Depression Inventory, which is administered by health care professionals around the world and has been the gold standard for measuring the severity of depression since it was first developed in 1961. No, your search will likely lead you to a plethora of sites offering any number of unverified quizzes promising to tell you, finally and truly, what's really wrong with you.


Here is one doctor's solution to this major problem.

Ask the therapist

Q: When I feel anxious about my health, I go online to search for answers. It always makes me feel way worse, yet I can't seem to stop. What can I do?

A: The internet and health anxiety make a terrible, terrible combination. Beyond reminding yourself over and over again that Google self-diagnoses are not useful and are rarely accurate, here are a few steps you can take to combat searching for symptoms and feeding the anxiety:

  • Exit. Exit. Exit. See that red “x” in the corner of your browser? Click on it. Get away from the internet when you start to feel like you need to look up symptoms. Remind yourself that what you're doing by looking up a diagnosis is feeding your anxiety, pure and simple. Anxiety thrives on keeping you under its control and making you think all sorts of negative thoughts. By clicking away from the search, you are telling the anxiety that you are not going to let it win.
  • Try a guided meditation. Focusing on symptoms can amplify bodily sensations and make your worry spiral. Ok. Deep breath. Try a meditation (there are some for free on Headspace, for instance) that guides you through the steps to getting calm. You'll notice the breath in your body and the calming sounds of the meditation. Finding time to do this can allow you to put your focus elsewhere and not on scanning for symptoms.
  • Consider acceptance. Our health is not always in our control. It might help to accept that sometimes people get sick—and that there are treatments that help. Worrying about it isn't going to change anything other than getting in the way of your happiness and calm. Write down what’s bothering you and consider bringing it to the attention of your doctor or therapist.

This week's answer is from Rachel Aredia, a therapist and ADAA member.

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