Keeping hypochondria at bay during a global pandemic

A woman wears a mask as she walks down the street.
A woman wears a mask as she walks down the street. / Ñito Salas
  • Doctors advise establishing a routine, not giving in to negative thoughts and only using reliable sources for information

This is a bad time for hypochondriacs. The worry and excessive fear of getting a serious illness, or the conviction that you already have one, increase considerably when there is a pandemic, and now coronavirus is affecting the whole planet. You only have to feel slightly unwell or have a slight cough for body and mind to suffer.

Although it is important to be aware of possible symptoms, especially for anyone who has been in contact with someone with the virus or in a risk situation, doctors recommend using common sense and not giving in to unnecessary negative thoughts.

Psychiatrist Enrique Trujillano says most of the phone consultations he has received in recent weeks "have been related to anxiety of a hypochondriac nature". To combat these fears, he says a sense of humour helps: "The most important thing is to remember that thoughts are not facts. I usually say to these patients that thinking they are going to win the lottery does not mean they are going to win the lottery, especially as most of the time they don't even buy a ticket. It is just the same with illnesses".

The problem with hypochondria is that these negative thoughts "lead to equally negative emotions, with people thinking they are predicting what will happen. That sense of unease affects not only them, but others around them as well," he says.

The advice from psychologists in general is "you have to take care of your health, not worry about it", because there can be situations where physically healthy people worry so much about becoming ill that their mental health deteriorates.

Dr Trujillano has some advice to overcome the fear: "I recommend accepting the situation for what it is, remember that it is only temporary, just take each day at a time and establish routines and activities to fill the days".

Reliable information

Dr Trujillano also says it is essential to be selective about where you obtain information about the coronavirus and other illnesses, such as the reliable media.

"WhatsApp, for example, where you receive messages with 'information' that has not been officially confirmed, audios sent by a friend of a friend who is the head of cardiology at some hospital or other, is not reliable. You have to stick to safe sources to keep up to date without spending most of the day searching for information".

If the situation causes panic, an irrational fear beyond a logical concern, experts recommend acknowledging that these are negative feelings, share them with people to whom you are close, and ask for professional help. They also advise keeping in regular contact with others, and planning things to do for every day.

For those who live with children, remember that they do not have the same resources as adults, so you should give them information which is appropriate for their age and in a way which makes them feel secure.