Under the Hood

Cyberchondria: The Anxiety You Get From Googling Your Symptoms

Internet provides numerous benefits, from faster communication, online shopping to finding new places to visit. It helps people to connect and learn things anywhere and anytime they want. 

However, there has been a rising problem with the excessive use of the internet. Many people have been developing dependence on search engines to identify their health conditions. 

A new study shows how people deal with “cyberchondria.” It comes from the word "hypochondria," which is known as health anxiety or obsessional worrying about health despite having minor symptoms, according to researchers Jill Newby, associate professor at the University of New South Wales, and Eoin McElroy, lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England. 

Cyberchondria occurs when an individual obtains too much information from web searches about a condition, which triggers anxiety and panic. It starts when you search about a minor condition like frequent headaches and Google gives you frightening stories making you think that you are seriously ill.

“Web search algorithms are mysterious beasts. But top search results are not necessarily the most likely explanation for your symptoms,” Newby and McElroy said in an article posted on The Conversation. “Top search results are often click-bait – the rare, but fascinating and horrific stories about illness we can't help clicking on (not the boring stuff).”

Researchers said health anxiety could lead to unnecessary contact with health services and negatively affect a person’s day-to-day functioning. The team analyzed the effects of an online therapy on 41 people with severe health anxiety and a control group of 41 healthy individuals. 

The participants took six online cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for more than 12 weeks. The program aims to guide people in finding helpful ways of thinking and behaving.

Researchers also provided phone support from a psychologist during the experiment. They then determined how excessive web searching affected the lifestyle of participants. 

Results show that CBT could help reduce cyberchondria. Participants with health anxiety reported reduced frequency of online searches and improved ability to control their search activities. 

The group also showed improvements in their health anxiety following the online therapy. 

“These findings show if you're feeling anxious about your health, you can use our practical strategies to reduce anxiety-provoking and excessive online searching about health,” Newby and McElroy added. 

The team noted that have yet to determine how the online therapy directly helped reduce cyberchondria. 

woman using computer A woman uses her laptop to search online. Cyberchondria occurs when an individual obtains too much information from web searches about a condition, which triggers anxiety and panic. Pixabay