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Confession of an Expat Hypochondriac

Something subtle always pushed me into action. Maybe a little pain in my abdomen, a short period of not feeling hungry or maybe just a never ending cold. I’d fly over to Google and start searching what was wrong.

Was it cancer?! Oh no, do I have a debilitating thyroid problem? No, it has to be an allergy. A life-threatening allergy that will leave me bedridden in a couple days.

e bike tuscany adler thermae eileen cotter wright

I know everyone goes down the internet rabbit hole when it comes to Googling your symptoms sometimes. But when my anxiety truly hit hard last summer, it seems all my fears went into overdrive. I think it was made worse by living abroad in the UK, not having my normal primary available and worried I’d get the wrong advice, or even unfamiliar medications if needed.

Normal pains or sickness now felt like the end of the world. I harassed my poor NHS doctor about every little twitch in my body that could be abnormal. I was planning to grab malarone from Online Doctor LloydsPharmacy for traveling to just other parts of Europe (PS, malaria pills are not need for Europe, at all). I’d stay up all night trying to use my breathing exercises learned in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to calm down and stop assuming the worst. I’ve been so fortunate to mostly avoid any major illness in my life, so it felt like I had to brace for the inevitable to better prepare myself.

pills via flickr

What was totally crazy is I was actually creating further symptoms – and doing it to myself. At my lowest, I lost my appetite for weeks, had terrible insomnia and would wake up with my heart racing every morning. All of this was in my mind. I am perfectly healthy physically, but the bad thoughts and fear were manifesting in my body. Your mind has incredible power over your senses and how you feel. Dwell negatively long enough and those symptoms can aggravate, becoming something worse.

Luck and some hard work would have it that I managed to recognize the control I really had and the damage I was doing to myself by Googling all these horrible things – things that weren’t true. Instead of feeling grateful for my current good health I was stuck in all the what-ifs. It’s not a fun place to be.

eileen cotter wright at adler thermae relax room

When you start feeling like your in a spiral about your health and are imagining the worst, what can you do? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Breathe deeply. Notice your pulse is rising and sit still for a moment, away from the laptop and every other distraction. If it’s something like a panic attack, it could be causing symptoms that will go away once you are out of panic mode.  Give yourself some time to really feel out what’s happening to your body instead of trying to analyze your symptoms.
  • Use the internet for good. Google’s algorithm is not your friend when it comes to presenting worst case scenarios first when usually, they’re rare. Instead, consider tools that have the real experts backing them. There’s plenty of resources online that have trained doctors you can utilize. Some apps will let you talk to real-time doctors, other websites have a diagnosis aspect for checking out your symptoms, but will then allow you to consult with a medical professional at the end to ensure you’re not overreacting.
  • Consider practicing something that helps you be better in tune with your body. Yoga Nidra is a possibility, and incorporates a meditative idea where you notice each of your individual body parts. It’s helped me not only realize when I really am not feeling great but also keep me in tune to minor injuries or strains.
  • Above all, take advantage of your healthcare plan if you have one. Doctors genuinely want to help. If it isn’t all the time, it’s OK to go in just to be reassured everything is OK. Talk to therapists and find out your options. Sometimes just a new frame of mind can make all the difference.

A professional, PhD-wielding doctor is always a better bet than Google. Trust me, long ago I was one of those terrible content writers who wrote nonsense all day for the internet. I’m sorry. We have no idea what we’re talking about, so there’s no need to get lost in internet garbage and make yourself upset. Talk to experts, get to know your own body and relax. It’ll be fine. And if someday it’s not all fine, you’ll be surprised at how well you handle that too.

EileenCotterWright

Author EileenCotterWright

Eileen Cotter Wright is a Boston, MA expat living in London, UK. She is a freelance writer and owner of group travel site PureWander.com. Despite losing her passport the first day she left her home country, she's continued to roam the earth with gusto for about a decade. You can keep up with her hot mess adventures on Twitter @Crooked_Flight.

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