For the Dancer Who's Obsessed with WebMD

August 21, 2017

I’m constantly terrified about my health even though my annual physical was fine. All it takes is an upset stomach or a new freckle. Then I can’t eat or concentrate on dance and waste hours checking myself, searching the web for fatal diseases and insisting on lab tests. Knowing I’m a hypochondriac doesn’t help. What can I do?

—Worried Sick, Boston, MA

The key is to stop the destructive cycle of worrying and checking, because no amount of internet research or lab tests will reassure you. Hypochondria is an anxiety disorder—not the product of an overactive imagination. It usually starts in your 20s and flares up during times of stress, and the initial trigger may be a medical scare or a relative or friend’s illness. The more you worry, the worse your fear gets, despite any evidence that you’re healthy. Medications for depression or anxiety can help improve your mood, and cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach you to challenge assumptions and change behavior, such as limiting health research.

For strategies about coping with illness (real or imagined), check out Harvard psychiatry professor Dr. Arthur Barsky’s book Stop Being Your Symptoms and Start Being Yourself. It’s also useful to share your anxiety with your primary care physician and schedule regular checkups every few months rather than resorting to emergency appointments whenever you become overwhelmed.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at
[email protected].