Phrases & aphorisms to calm the hypochondriac's mind
March 29, 2011 12:20 PM   Subscribe

My roommate has some trouble with related to hypochondria. She has found expressions like the following to be helpful in slowing down her anxious thoughts regarding illness: "You shouldn't be worried if you lose your car keys. You should be worried when you forget what your car keys are for." Does anyone know any similar expressions for when one shouldn't worry about a physical or mental symptom? Obviously all usual disclaimers apply: IANAD, YANM(F's)D, etc, nor does she expect any aphorisms posted to constitute medical advice.

Finding actual reliable medical information isn't the trouble, as she's aware of Medline Plus and other good sources for patient health info.

posted by brackish.line to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: After serious illness discovered from a completely inoccuous symptom, I became easily spooked by any little thing that was off. Eventually I learned to remind myself: "If it doesn't least at least a week, it's probably not cancer." Giving myself permission to seek medical attention in a week (i.e. don't ignore the "symptom" just decide to watch it), I found that of course these things would not last a week and it was all good.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:24 PM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

"Don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff" in some ways might be helpful. Obviously sometimes things should not be considered 'small stuff'. However, if this phrase were understood as the basic default position, from which one would actually need to decide to the contrary ("no, actually, this IS worth considering"), then maybe it might be helpful to reaffirm that in normal reality, most things are just fine.
posted by kch at 12:36 PM on March 29, 2011

"Common things are common."

The doctors told me this when I had a bone tumor that could either be the common relatively harmless giant cell tumor, or the rare horrible-bone-cancer-of-doom.
posted by lettuchi at 12:44 PM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: "When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras."

I mentioned this to my doctor after we were discussing some health issue, and he replied "they taught us that phrase in med school."
posted by adamrice at 12:46 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

If she has issues with actual anxiety symptoms, it's helpful to reassure yourself that your symptoms are probably just a physical result of the anxiety. So I repeat to myself, "It's just anxiety, you're not actually sick, concentrate on relaxing."

It can be scary, because the anxiety manifests as heart racing, nervousness, lightheadedness, and then you worry about the physical symptoms, and the anxiety worsens. If you can stop the vicious cycle by taking several very deep breaths, that can help keep your mind from inventing all sorts of potential medical problems.
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:47 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's never lupus?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:09 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

A variant of your friend's car keys axiom I often think of is, "Alzheimer's isn't forgetting to hang up your car keys. It's hanging your car keys up in the freezer."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:17 PM on March 29, 2011

I had a grade 5 teacher with a rather contrarian axiom: If you feel crappy, get up and take a walk outside. Staying in bed with the window and door shut will make you feel worse.

As Rachelfaith notes, sometimes feeling crappy is environment or context-related. Encourage your friend to remove herself from the context or environment and see if she feels better.
posted by LN at 1:26 PM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all! I'm grateful for everything posted so far, and of course more are welcome.
posted by brackish.line at 1:33 PM on March 29, 2011

"Alzheimer's isn't forgetting to hang up your car keys. It's hanging your car keys up in the freezer."

oh fuck.
posted by peep at 1:33 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

by which I mean, I do that shit all the time, and I don't have Alzheimer's, I assure you. That diagnosis is "space cadet" or maybe ADHD.
posted by peep at 1:34 PM on March 29, 2011


In my family it's Partzheimer's or Somezheimers.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:50 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Something that comes up a lot when we're considering a patient's history and physical and starting a differential is the idea of "progressive." It's helpful to ask yourself, when you have a nagging or mild but worrisome symptom, "is this progressive? is it getting worse over time? is this more painful or dramatic than it was on Monday (and it's now Saturday)? This is a variation on If I only had a penguin's advice, which is very good.

So, when you're having a day that you are very thirsty, instead of thinking "god, I have diabetes," note that you are thirsty today and make your thought actually notable if you as thirsty three days later, or are now both thirsty and always hungry and have to get up to pee at night. Progression, progressive.

This is also a good way to communicate with your provider. Diffuse abdominal pain, in and of itself, may not grab your provider's attention. Diffuse abdominal pain that you report has progressively become worse, not better, or has progressively accumulated companion symptoms, should.

Two other good "P" words are "Provokes" and "Palliative." In other words, what makes this worse? What makes it better? Then add the other "P": does it take progressively less provoke this symptom? does it it take progressively more to make it better? Again, these are clear-headed ways to think about your health, and very clear ways to communicate with a provider.

Example: I had a headache yesterday, I still have one today (progression). Yesterday, it made it worse to be at that outdoor concert, today, I can't even stand to be in my office at work (progression of provocation). Yesterday, I felt better after 400 mg of ibuprofen, today, I've taken 800 mg with no relief (progression of palliative care). All of these are good reason's to notify your provider. On the other hand, if you get a headache, even if it lasts more than one day, and you see no progression of what makes it worse or what you have to do to make it better, you can watch it a little longer.


(i'm in my nurse practitioner rotations. and it's never bad advice if you ask a friend or the internet a question about your health and the answer is "call your provider" to go ahead and do so. take good care.)
posted by rumposinc at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2011 [16 favorites]

I'm with If only I had a penguin...

I use the one week rule as a general guideline.

These aren't sayings, but other things that I try to consider before I rush to call the doctor are transience and functional impairment. If a symptom comes and goes without any obvious pattern (e.g. only at night or after I take X medication), and especially if it's absent more than it's present, I wait it out and only see the doctor if it becomes more severe or more persistent (or both). Similarly, if a symptom is mild enough that it doesn't interfere with my ability to go to work or sleep, I wait for it to get worse or go away.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 1:56 PM on March 29, 2011

Crazy people don't think they're crazy. If you're worried about your sanity then you're still sane.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:07 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you think humor might help: "It's no fun being a hypochondriac these days. All the really interesting diseases have been cured." (can't remember where I heard it)
posted by amyms at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2011

Yeah, amyms, except they haven't.
posted by kestrel251 at 4:03 PM on March 29, 2011

A couple I tell my gf now and again (and secretly tell myself when no one is around).

"It's not cancer. Cancer is incredibly rare and most people never know they have it until a doctor discovers it."

"Worrying causes stress and stress literally kills. The hormones it releases shortens life. Worry isnt worth it."

"I accept I only have x amount of years left. I should use them properly instead of worrying about illness, money, etc all the time."

"A lot of things we tend to categorize as mental issues can be diminished or even cured by eating better, sleeping better, being more relaxed, and finding purpose in life."
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:05 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

When dealing with some pretty severe anxiety a few years back I read the phrase "There is more right with you than wrong with you" in Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I have found it very helpful through out the years, and in fact, that book is excellent for people in your friend's mindset.
posted by squid in a people suit at 4:25 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Worrying causes stress and stress literally kills. The hormones it releases shortens life. Worry isnt worth it.

When I was ill, and had good cause to worry and be afraid, this thought stressed me out more than anything. It is IMO the worst thing you can tell someone who is sick, and since most people will be sick sometimes/eventually, best not to tell it to healthy people, either.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:51 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Strictly speaking this is more male-orientated.

"Absentmindedness is forgetting to zip up after you pee. Senility is forgetting to unzip before you pee."
posted by codswallop at 8:59 PM on March 29, 2011

Applicable beyond health: "Saw it on the news? News is, by definition, stuff that hardly ever happens."
posted by eritain at 9:11 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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