Dealing with hypochondriasis – Passy Amaraegbu
Tara concluded that she would soon be diagnosed with breast cancer. Her main reason for thinking this way is because Suen her best friend died of the same illness. The former was the closest companion to the latter throughout the period of the sickness. Tara watched how her bosom friend’s health deteriorated drastically until Suen finally gave up the ghost. Tara still remembers all the terrible experiences which preceded Suen’s death such as the sleepless nights, the groaning due to excruciating pains, the restlessness, the ever flowing tears, the nightmares, the struggle against death and she believes that it is only a matter of time before her own tragedy commences.
Already, Tara is experiencing nightmares of untimely death and in spite of many medical tests and examinations, which confirmed that Tara is healthy. She refuses to accept the truth. Daily, she is getting more worried about her health.
Tara is threading the pathway of hypochondriasis. Also known by its current terminologies as Health Anxiety (HA), Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD) or Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD), hypochondriasis manifests as irrational preoccupation with one’s health status in spite of contrary proofs. The condition may persist after engaging in due health evaluation by qualified medical personnel.
What remedies are available to ameliorate the onslaught of hypochondriasis?
Generally, there are three remedial approaches to handle hypochondriasis, namely, medical, personal improvement and psychological therapies. The first is needed to establish scientific baseline data as an evidence of good health or otherwise. Normally these health scientific data are established through physical examination, battery of tests and x-rays.
Again medical therapy can proceed to the level where some relevant drugs such as psychotropic medication in the form of antidepressants are used.
In terms of personal improvement, one can reduce the anxiety level by engaging in some decisions such as, refusing to continue on-line investigation about the particular disease, avoiding alcoholic and other drugs, which increases the anxiety level, learning relaxation techniques such as being involved in sports and games. Truly, engaging in active outdoor game activities could play a significant role in reducing anxiety and panic attacks.
Also getting engaged in a creative and less demanding work schedule would be very helpful to the patient. Particularly for elderly patients, regular socialization with their friends and family plays a crucial role for them to maintain a healthy status. This form of engagement in social alliances serves the dual purposes of being cathartic and as well as boosting the self image of the elderly. Elderly people desire to interact and remain relevant.
One of the major psychotherapies for handling hypochondriasis is Behavioural Stress Management. Some of the practical techniques of stress management involve developing a positive attitude about the stressful event, acknowledging that some circumstances of the events are beyond one’s control, engaging in regular physical exercise as well as learning to meditate. For instance, Tara whose case was mentioned at the beginning of this discourse can develop or be helped to develop a positive attitude towards the death of her friend. Instead of attempting to attract sudden death to herself, she can be helped to discover some optimistic life transforming lessons, which can help her to invest her own life in creative activities such as establishing a legacy for her deceased friend, or establishing a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) or Trust Fund. These creative alternative pre-occupational events would be both curative and enabling.
A major aspect of Behavioural Stress Management is Assertive Training. This is the middle position between the two negative extremes of passivity and aggressiveness. Assertive behaviour involves the ability to stand up for one’s or other people’s rights in a calm and positive way without succumbing to passivity or aggressiveness. It demands a deliberate decision to learn and act assertively.
One of the best result-oriented and recommended therapies for handling hypochondriasis is Congnitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It is actually a popular Behaviour Modification approach, which aims to change the mental and emotional state of the individual by changing his/her destructive thought patterns. Unlike the traditional psychotherapeutic approach like psychoanalysis, which deals with histories and unconscious motives, CBT deals with specific disorders. Also, it is action oriented as the therapist assists the patient to discover and apply specific strategies to experience restoration.
Consequently, CBT concentrates on challenging and changing both distorted (false) belief systems as well as abnormal behaviours. CBT was initially developed by Dr. Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s to treat depression but its value now extends to other maladaptive behaviours such as substance abuse, eating and obsessive compulsive disorders and their likes.
Dr. Beck was a psychiatrist who also was initially trained as a psychotherapist in the traditionally Freudian psychoanalytic approach. Over the years, CBT has proven to be a dynamic and effective form of Behaviour Modification.
In concluding this discourse, it is pertinent to note that the best solution for mental and emotional health is to consult professionals such psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, counselors, psychiatric nurses and other paramedical personnels. In our contemporary age, there exists a preponderance of problems and troubles, which challenge, as well as cause the onset or ascersabation of psychological disorders. The fact is that a significant percentage of those suffering from various forms of disorders are either ignorant or engaged in self-denial of their mental problems. Families and friends remain the two major cohort of significant others who can help provide immense assistance to people.
The efforts of families and friends can be enhanced by government, which places a high premium on the psychological health of her citizens by providing professional training for qualified staff as well as up to date equipment. Equally, private organisations and non-governmental organisation should get involved in ensuring that our citizens experience healthy mental and emotional status. Such collaboration will significantly impact on the deadly onslaught of various dangerous predators which daily invade the psychological well being of our citizenry. May we all arise to contribute positively to building a society where the psychological health of people is a top priority to all.
• Dr. Amaraegbu, a Clinical Psychologist lives in Lagos. He can be contacted with this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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