I once had the naiveté to believe I invented the term “Googlechondria” until- you guessed it- I Googled it and found this definition:
You are said to be suffering from Googlechondria if you have convinced yourself that there is something wrong with you by looking up your symptoms on Google.
This term came to me, personally after seeing three highly anxious clients in one week who all assured me they were afflicted with some sort of highly complex physical or mental illness. When I applied some cognitive behavioral questions to their stories (in this case, it mainly consists of finding real evidence for one’s assertions), they all came up blank.
Let me give you one of my favourite examples:
Client: “I have a brain tumour and I’m dying”…
Me: “When did your doctor give you this devastating news?”
Client: “Well, I don’t have an official diagnosis yet but I know it’s true.”
Me: “Umm…then how did you find out about this supposed terminal tumour of yours?”
Client: (looking at me like I’m an idiot) “Google!”
Me: “Let me get this straight- you are convinced you have a brain tumour and are terminally ill, and yet you have had no medical tests or conversations with doctors telling you this for certain? So how exactly did you come to this conclusion looking at Google alone?”
Client: (Now obviously annoyed with my apparent idiocy) “I had one of those headaches I told you about last time- you know- when my head starts to throb and I feel like someone has a vice grip on my brain? Well, I went to the computer and looked up the symptoms I was experiencing and it said it could be a brain tumour, so that’s how I found out.”
If I’ve done my job well enough, this client will walk out of this session realizing that they have the anxious habit of ‘catastrophizing’ or what I like to call ‘awfulizing’ and jumping to false conclusions when minor incidents are worked up into a tizzy in their own minds.
Then we talk at length about working on letting go of that bad mental habit and replacing it with mindfulness and curious self-enquiry and deescalating of bodily anxiety symptoms (in this case, the supposed ‘brain tumour’ was actually a physical manifestation, or ‘symptom’ of the client’s anxiety). She later learned to pair these ‘head symptoms’ with anxiety and took them as an immediate sign that she needed to do some of the deep breathing exercises we had practiced together which magically made her ‘head pain’ disappear after about three minutes of this meditative practice!
I could site countless examples of clients’ self-diagnosing of a multitude of mental illnesses they happened to ‘Google’ when they had too much time on their hands. My personal favourite is when clients tell me they have “Borderline Personality Disorder” because they figured it out by ‘Googling’ their behaviours on the internet (often during the week leading up to their period). Of course, when I ask whether they have received an official diagnosis, they say “no” but still try to convince me otherwise.
My answer to them is this: “Allow me to provide you with two reasons for doubting this supposed “fact” about your current state of mental health. The first is that you have not been officially diagnosed and the second is the fact that ‘lack of self-awareness’ is one of the main features of Borderline Personality Disorder; something you may have too much of from the sounds of it.”
Google is the hypochondriac’s dream and perhaps downfall as well…I often think how awful it must be to be a doctor these days with so many patients telling them what is wrong with them because they looked up their symptoms on WebMD…
How about the next time you get the urge to find some incurable illness on the internet which might suit you that day, why don’t you turn off the computer, make a cup of tea and sit in candlelight and meditate for ten minutes? I guarantee you’ll feel a whole lot better and you might even ward off that fateful ‘illness’!