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Hypochondria or health anxiety is often the subject of humor. Seriously, pop “hypochondria” into google. All sorts of entertaining images grace your screen. With the rise of Web MD and Mayo Clinic, it’s easier than ever to fall into a spiral of hysterical, symptom-checking tendencies.
In a lot of ways, hypochondria is a natural outcome of a society obsessed with both health and sensationalism.
Many people in the United States are intensely focused on the idea of health. Commercials about diets and medications cram advertising slots on television. Also the plethora of fitness and clean eating blogs ought to tell you this industry is a booming business, one worth way more cash than I’ll ever see in my lifetime, unless I magically win six consecutive lotteries.
Furthermore, we’re a society that devours clickbaity articles such as “Antibiotic-resistant staph infection kills teenager” or “young woman dies of rare brain eating amoeba infection.” I bet if I scanned my facebook right now I’d find a sensationalist article, begging for clicks and shares. With those screaming headlines, of course you’re going to think everything and anything is out to kill you.
Hypochondria is common. Way too common.Okay, I know I sound cynical. I could take or leave ridiculous “news” articles, but to tell you the truth I have no malicious feelings toward the idea of health or society’s concern about us maintaining strong bodies. Currently, I’m on an eating plan to implement more whole grains and vegetables into my diet, because it’s important for me to lose weight for health purposes. Fitness, good eating, zen mental states, I don’t have beef with any of them. I promise.
But when health turns into obsession, transforming into the idea that something serious is destroying your body, then you’ve effectively opened a metaphorical door for hypochondria to wreck havoc on your quality of life.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my mental wellbeing to plummet because Google cannot stop talking about all the horrible illnesses plaguing our planet. I want to live.
I normally poke fun at my hypochondria, because, yes, I’ve diagnosed myself with some pretty asinine diseases over the years. Laughter is a great coping mechanism for me. The day I can’t use humor to quell my fears is a day I don’t want to come into existence. Ever.
Yet, during panicky moments, I have gotta say: hypochondria is not funny for the sufferer.
For those of you who may roll your eyes at the mention of “health anxiety,” I’ve a message for you: We don’t mean to annoy you. We don’t act melodramatic for hugs and kisses. We don’t enjoy running to the doctor’s office. We truly think something is physically wrong with us. And it’s terrifying.
I want those hours, actually days, back that I spent frantically scouring Web MD and reading about rare cancers, convinced the small lump in my neck and leg had the potential to kill me. I could’ve spent my valuable time wasting more money on sephora.com or watching my favorite travel vloggers.
Hypochondria locks you inside your own frazzled brain. Unless you come back to reality, you alienate yourself from friends and family, and rack up some major medical bills. Fortunately I have great insurance and an understanding doctor, but in America, not everyone is so lucky.
So what should everybody know about hypochondria and travel?
First and foremost, if you’ve health anxiety, know it’s still totally possible for you to fulfill your travel dreams. Don’t stay home because you’re convinced some super rare illness (or five) will eventually “get you” on your trip. You need to be stronger than the beast in your head. Trust me.
Go travel. Explore. Make new friends. Try interesting foods. I implore you! Staying at home will only make you feel worse.
Here are a few tips:
1. Keep Busy
Come on, honey, you’re in Paris or Vancouver. Are you really gonna waste your time messing around on Web MD? Leave your accommodation, far away from your free wifi, and explore your new temporary home.
Keeping busy is the best medicine for hypochondria in my opinion. I tend to think about disastrous diseases when I have nothing better to do except sit on my butt and google melodramatic nonsense. Sightseeing will keep your mind focused on the glorious present rather than a fake sick future.
Which leads me to…
2. Limit Your Time Online
The internet is a wealth of information but as we know, the worldwide web can also open cans of worms in your brain. Walk away if you can’t help but read about the latest virus epidemic every time you’re online.
Don’t spend more time online than necessary while you’re traveling around the world. If you want to be especially proactive, ditch the smartphone and buy a cheap flip phone with a local SIM card in your country of choice. The extra effort of tracking down a computer will discourage you from wasting time on the internet.
Don’t make it easy for your health anxiety to find an outlet. Nip it in the bud.
3. Don’t Suffer in Silence
Most travelers aren’t judgmental idiots. Sure, we’ve all met That Guy or Girl, but 95% of the time, travelers are a welcoming and caring bunch, who want to have fabulous experiences in a new location. Travel allows us to make friends for life.
So if you’re feeling anxious, speak up and let others know what’s going on! You’ll probably receive a ton of reassurance. Heck, you may even find a fellow hypochondriac and you can be each others sanity saviors.
Bonus: quite a few travelers are nurses or doctors. Don’t pester them with medical questions because they’re on vacation from work too. Nonetheless if you have a moment of uneasiness, POLITELY ask them for advice.
4. Research Your New Destination to Avoid Sickness
I debated on including this point because I know too much research leads to paranoia. Believe me, I’m the unrivaled Queen of Paranoia.
However, I’m personally in the camp that knowledge is power. Research your destination to know ahead of time what medications you may need to bring with you. If you’re traveling to the developing world, you may need vaccinations to prevent certain diseases. Be smart, be safe.
Armed with your new knowledge and protection, you can tell yourself that at least 1. you’re on guard against any potential problems and 2. you’ve significantly diminished the odds of infection.
5. Address Your Anxiety
Honestly, the best way to handle hypochondria is to address the real illness that plagues you: anxiety.
Sorry. You don’t have lymphoma, sarcoma, malaria, HIV, or brain aneurysms. You have anxiety. Own it. Then make a plan to improve it. And there are plenty of steps to take if you have anxiety about traveling alone.
If you want to take a trip and honestly feel like your health anxiety will spoil everything, then book an appointment with a qualified professional and face hypochondria head on. A licensed therapist or doctor will be worth every penny if you’re able to overcome your anxious feelings and go on the adventure of your dreams.
Do you have hypochondria but love traveling? How do you reconcile these two things? Leave your thoughts in the comments.