“I have a headache. Do you think I should have it checked out? What if it is a brain tumor? I saw something on the internet that sounded like my symptoms and the person died. Should I go see my doctor?” Living with a hypochondriac can be challenging. A hypochondriac has a lot of body complaints and minor things become major.

It is normal to worry now and then about health, but when someone worries to the extreme and it interferes with their life and those around them, that is a problem. If they talk frequently about illness, make frequent doctor visits, search the Internet for diseases and symptoms, think any pain is a sign of something serious, check their body for sickness, and feel no relief from medical tests, they may be suffering from something called Illness Anxiety Disorder.

Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD) is a psychiatric disorder that involves being convinced they have illness even though their are no or few symptoms. It is a newer term for hypochondria. It is characterized by excessive worry and fear about illness. It is often brought on by major life stress, history of abuse and/or illness and other mental health disorders.

Learning more about the illness can help you understand what contributes to the problem. This can also increase your patience and empathy and help you with tips to cope and not enable the problem.

Be supportive, but don’t show too much concern and try to stay neutral in your answers. Express that you understand their struggle, without encouraging their obsessive thoughts. Put a time limit on the conversation so that you don’t reinforce illness talk.

Try to discourage the person from excessive worry, checking, research, and reassurance-seeking. Don’t reinforce their obsessions or compulsions by automatically buying in to the health concern, by helping them with excessive research, or by giving reassurance too frequently.

You can also discourage excessive doctors’ appointments and point out the drawbacks of making too many doctors’ appointments (such as cost, stress, time, inconvenience, and additional fears that may result from what the doctor said or from lab results). Encourage a counseling session instead to work through the anxiety.

Preoccupy the hypochondriac with fun activities. When they start complaining about their aching bones, suggest a walk around the block. Tackling the perceived pain through physical activity is a good way to make them forget about it.

Remind them that God invites us to cast our cares on Him. So, encourage the person to unload those health anxieties onto our Savior. Allow Him to shoulder the burden and carry them. Use this verse from Deuteronomy 31:8 to encourage. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.   

Living with a hypochondriac