How to Help a Person with Hypochondria
Hypochondriasis, now known as Illness Anxiety Disorder, refers to excessive worry about having or developing a serious (often undiagnosed) medical condition. It’s estimated that up to 13% of the general population suffers from health-related anxiety, and some of them take it to the extreme. Today, we’ll teach you 7 tips to help a person with hypochondria.
Fear of having or developing a serious illness persists despite normal results on tests and medical exams. Excessive worry conditions behavior, choices, and mental well-being, so much so that it leads the affected person to disrupt their life in many ways. We’ll list what to do and what not to do to help a person with hypochondria.
7 tips to help a person with hypochondria
As experts indicate, it’s more common for a person to develop Illness Anxiety Disorder in certain situations. For example, if you (or someone close to you) experienced a serious illness as a child, have an underlying anxiety disorder, or have grown up in a family where health issues were constantly discussed.
Specialists also suggest that there’s a relationship between this and anxiety disorder, somatoform disorder, and depressive disorder. Therefore, people are prone to developing these disorders or at least showing signs of them. With these reflections as a preamble, we’ll leave you with some tips to help a person with hypochondria.
1. Learn about the disorder
The first step in helping a person with hypochondriasis is to understand the disorder. This happens by informing yourself about its nature, symptoms, triggers, and treatment options. You can’t offer help if you don’t know what hypochondriasis is, so the first strategy is to look for educational materials about the condition.
In the process, you must also make sure that this person is also informed. The refusal to receive treatment or accept the diagnosis is based in part on general ignorance. Said ignorance can also lead to underestimation or trying to approach the disorder in a simplistic or wrong way.
2. Encourage the person to seek psychological help
Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, is considered an effective treatment for hypochondriac patients. The therapy teaches the patient strategies to control the disorder, and the first benefits are evident after a couple of weeks. Many people reject help of this type, partly because of the stigma or prejudice they have regarding going to a psychologist.
What you can do in these contexts is to encourage them to seek professional help. Just as a cardiologist is consulted in the face of a heart disorder, a psychologist should also be consulted when a mental imbalance occurs. Let the person know that with their help, they can overcome the disorder and that they have the support of family and friends in the process.
3. Start a program of distracting activities
As experts point out, Illness Anxiety Disorder can be treated through lifestyle changes. In general, anything that implies a decrease in stress and anxiety is welcome when dealing with it. Exercising, yoga, meditation, hiking, fishing, and more are just a few examples.
Many people are open to assuming these habits on a day-to-day basis, although, over time, they tend to abandon them. It’s at this point that you can make an appearance.
It’s a good idea to be the partner that encourages these activities so that your loved one isn’t alone when practicing them. Try to find out what activities they enjoy the most together so that the chances of abandonment are even lower.
4. Don’t encourage their anxiety
For example, reaffirming some physical symptoms that they claim to have or always encouraging them to tell you how they’ve reached that conclusion. Directly or indirectly reaffirming their distress is a way of validating it, so it’s the last thing you should do. Assume a distant/critical attitude toward these associations and don’t encourage their constant visits to the doctor.
5. Let them know you’re there
Perhaps the best way to help a person with hypochondria is to let them know you’re there. Patients are prone to developing distrust in others because they don’t see them as people who believe in their anguish. At this point, it’s important to take into account that the symptoms they claim to have aren’t invented or unreal, they only exaggerate certain sensations that they do actually have.
Naturally, patients’ reactions may worsen when they isolate themselves. That’s why the company of the inner circle is so important, especially when it’s sincere. Let them know in a sincere way that you’re there for them and help them understand what the disorder consists of and why they experience these feelings related to their health.
6. Be patient
Regardless of all of the above, patience itself can be a great way to help a person with hypochondria. Disorders of this type aren’t treated within a couple of weeks, so it can take years before that person’s attitudes and behavior become normative.
You must also be patient when they talk about their concerns regarding their health, otherwise, instead of helping, it’ll have the opposite effect.
7. Don’t minimize
For example, don’t tell them to stop worrying, not to be paranoid, or that they don’t have a disease. Although it may be the first thing that comes to mind for a person dealing with a hypochondriac patient, in practice, these words don’t have much impact. On the contrary, they can cause them to isolate themself, refrain from sharing their concerns, and lose confidence.
The support of family and friends is very important in coping with the disorder, so being there is the best thing you can do to support a person with hypochondriasis. Be sure to learn more about illness anxiety disorder and make sure that person is aware that you’re there for them.It might interest you...
- Chappell AS. Toward a Lifestyle Medicine Approach to Illness Anxiety Disorder (Formerly Hypochondriasis). Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;12(5):365-369.
- French, J. H., & Hameed, S. Illness anxiety disorder. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. 2021.
- Scarella TM, Laferton JA, Ahern DK, Fallon BA, Barsky A. The Relationship of Hypochondriasis to Anxiety, Depressive, and Somatoform Disorders. Psychosomatics. 2016;57(2):200-207.
- Scarella TM, Boland RJ, Barsky AJ. Illness Anxiety Disorder: Psychopathology, Epidemiology, Clinical Characteristics, and Treatment. Psychosom Med. 2019 Jun;81(5):398-407.