Why you should never Google your symptoms (and what to do instead)

We've all been there. You wake up with a sore throat, a headache, or a weird rash. You wonder if it's something serious, or just a minor annoyance. You decide to do a quick online search to find out what's wrong with you. You type in your symptoms and hit enter.

Big mistake.

You are now bombarded with a list of possible diagnoses, ranging from the common cold to the rarest and deadliest diseases known to mankind. You start to panic. You click on the links and read the horror stories of people who had similar symptoms and ended up with terminal illnesses. You convince yourself that you have the worst-case scenario.

You start to imagine your own funeral and how your loved ones will cope without you. You are now suffering from cyberchondria, a term coined by researchers to describe the anxiety and distress caused by self-diagnosing online. Cyberchondria is a real phenomenon that affects millions of people around the world. It can lead to unnecessary stress, wasted time, and even harmful behaviors such as avoiding medical care or taking inappropriate medications.

So how can you avoid falling into this trap? Here are some tips on what to do instead of Googling your symptoms:

  • Trust your doctor. If you have a health concern, the best thing to do is to consult a qualified medical professional who can examine you, ask you relevant questions, and order tests if needed. Your doctor has years of training and experience in diagnosing and treating various conditions. They can also provide you with reliable information and advice on how to manage your health. Don't let a random website or forum post override your doctor's opinion.

  • Limit your online research. If you really want to learn more about your condition or symptoms, use reputable sources such as official health organizations, academic journals, or trusted websites that are written by experts and reviewed by peers. Avoid sites that are sponsored by commercial interests, have sensational headlines, or make unrealistic claims or promises. Also, limit the amount of time you spend online researching your health. Set a timer for 10 minutes and stop when it goes off.

  • Be aware of your emotions. Sometimes we Google our symptoms because we are feeling anxious, bored, lonely, or curious. These emotions can influence how we interpret the information we find online and how we react to it. For example, if we are feeling anxious, we may focus on the worst possible outcomes and ignore the more likely ones. If we are feeling bored, we may look for something exciting or dramatic to spice up our lives. If we are feeling lonely, we may seek comfort or validation from strangers on the internet. If we are feeling curious, we may go down a rabbit hole of irrelevant or misleading information. Try to identify what you are feeling before you go online and find healthier ways to cope with your emotions.

  • Seek support. If you are worried about your health or have symptoms that persist or worsen, don't hesitate to reach out to someone who can help you. This could be your doctor, a nurse, a therapist, a friend, or a family member. Talking to someone who cares about you can help you feel less alone and more hopeful. They can also encourage you to seek professional help if needed or distract you from your worries with some positive activities.

  • Remember that Google is not a doctor. Google is a powerful tool that can help us find information on almost anything we want to know. But it is not a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis. Google cannot see you, hear you, touch you, or ask you questions. It cannot take into account your medical history, your lifestyle, your risk factors, or your preferences. It cannot tell you what is wrong with you or what to do about it. Only a real doctor can do that. So next time you feel tempted to Google your symptoms, think twice before you do it. You may save yourself a lot of unnecessary worry and stress. And remember: when in doubt, see your doctor.

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