No holidays for hypochondriacs!
Hypochondriacs are perpetually convinced that they’re ill… a phobia that never takes a holiday! Psychiatrist and author Dr Robert Neuberger explains the phenomena.
Obsessed and fearful of a new and perhaps serious illness, the hypochondriac doesn’t give friends, family or doctor a break either… Chest pain morphs into a heart attack; stomach pain after eating out is surely food poisoning… And with swine flu, contaminated bean sprouts and malaria outbreaks, travelling abroad seems to be much riskier, especially to the hypochondriac.
“The hypochondriac is never on holidays, as health anxieties can (and do) spring up at any moment,” says psychiatrist Dr Robert Neuburger. This phobia mostly affects men and in many cases, those who have some link the medical community, directly or indirectly.
Hypochondria, anxiety and illness…
Hypochondriacs are often referred to as imaginary patients, but to their minds, they are always suffering from some form of illness, and most often it’s serious. “A hypochondriac has the habit of transferring all his anxiety directly onto his body,” explains Dr Neuberger.
At the least inkling of pain, the diagnostic machine revs up: cancer, heart problems… With an anxious nature, the hypochondriac prefers to hang his worries on the physical body. Well and truly in denial of his psychological anxiety, he is convinced that he is suffering from a disease… for the most part refuted by the doctor.
Managing a hypochondriac
A hypochondriac is over-informed and possesses very advanced medical knowledge; either through the Internet, available health literature or from those around him. He will generally follow all new health developments closely, in particular, symptoms and side effects. “These people are not easy to manage for the doctor,” says the psychiatrist. Convincing them that they are not actually ill is pretty well “Mission Impossible”.
The imagined illness is in fact a protective symptom, which is projected onto the body and for which it’s very difficult for the hypochondriac to make the mind-body link. Even after having undergone numerous tests and examinations that usually confirm that all is well, the hypochondriac is not reassured and may even decide to change doctors.
The best attitude to take with a hypochondriac would be to agree (without exaggeration) to other complementary examinations to calm him, all the while trying to bring the conversation onto another level than that of the physical ‘illness’ – but this is quite difficult to do.
More often than not, the hypochondriac’s family and friends will also give up, leaving him isolated and feeling completely misunderstood.
Getting over hypochondria
In defence of hypochondriacs, it should be said that our society has a rather obsessive relationship with health and illness. Between health-related advertising, cinema storylines and online information, our attention is quite taken with the subject, and a hypochondriac’s even more so. "One possible way out is humour,” suggests Dr Neuberger. This is one of the most effective ways for a hypochondriac to get a bit of distance from their symptoms.
For the family, the best attitude is indifference, which can be quite tricky. "If you’ve realised that you know or are living with a hypochondriac, above all, don’t start pushing them to seek professional help.” And don’t ridicule them either. According to the psychiatrist, “Hypochondria is like being imprisoned, which you may find amusing despite the person’s apparent distress; but he is not pretending and is actually suffering intensely.”
A hypochondriac partner on holiday
Over the holiday period, try to agree a pact with the hypochondriac, for instance: "He has the right to one crisis per week, no more, and of course with a non-cumulative effect,” suggests Dr Neuberger. This means that if he makes it through the week without a crisis, he can’t add the crisis onto the next week’s quota…
The psychiatrist has also noted that going for therapy as a couple can really help get the person on the road to recovery. That he accepts having his partner there is already a huge step. So why don’t you and your partner try to make that a resolution for the end of this holiday season?
Copyright © 2010 Doctissimo
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