How to deal with a hypochondriac significant other?
March 1, 2006 9:56 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with a hypochondriac significant other?

I have been dating a young lady for a while now and really love her. However, she is constantly afraid that she has the symptoms of some life threatening illness. So far I have always consoled the best I can, but I really think this is a problem that if solved would make her life a lot better. How can I help her realize these fears are irrational without seeming like a jerk?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You likely can't. Until it's a problem for her, she will likely do nothing and probably get worse.

You may suggest that you see it affecting her happiness and that she may want to consult a therapist.
posted by qwip at 10:30 PM on March 1, 2006

Get her to a shrink.
posted by delmoi at 10:47 PM on March 1, 2006

There's some thought now that hypochondria is actually a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior -- I don't think it's really something you can just "make her realize" is irrational. She may even know, on some level, that these thoughts are irrational, but continues to be gripped by them nevertheless.
posted by scody at 11:32 PM on March 1, 2006

What they all said, except without scody's typo.
posted by tkolar at 12:15 AM on March 2, 2006

Maybe medication could help? Prozac, Zoloft, Xanax...
posted by iviken at 12:27 AM on March 2, 2006

what scody said
posted by matteo at 12:37 AM on March 2, 2006

Short of therapy, I can only suggest doing your best to get her interested in/excited about other things. Don't fail to compliment her on things that she's put energy into, give her bags of positive encouragement and maybe she'll get so into something else that she'll just forget to be a hypochondriac. It's worth a try.
posted by teleskiving at 1:33 AM on March 2, 2006

It could also be a form of attention-seeking behaviour rooted in feelings of insecurity on her part.

Does she only act like this around you or does it pervade all aspects of her life?
posted by essexjan at 4:30 AM on March 2, 2006

I second the suggestion of a little anti-depressant. Obsessive worrying is hard to stop. It's an OCD thing, IMHO. See a doctor (even your family doctor). It could totally change her life (and yours) -- for the better.
posted by bim at 4:49 AM on March 2, 2006

Just one caveat; occasionally people who are repeatedly and over a long period of time called hypochondriacs are eventually proven correct. I, unfortunately, know this from personal experience and have not been well served by the medical establishment.

(If your SO is serially convinced that she has all sorts of DIFFERENT ailments rather than one particular ailment, this probably doesn't apply. For obvious reasons.)
posted by Justinian at 4:57 AM on March 2, 2006

Nothing you say to her will make the problem go away. Everytime she fears some illness you can reassure her that she's ok. But that's a short term solution and it only serves to reinforce her OCD.

Giving her more attention, getting her interested in other things will do no good.

I've dealt with hypochondria most of my life. Rationally I know that there is nothing wrong with me but this illness plants the idea in your mind and it's almost impossible to let it go.

She needs cognitive therapy and medication. It's a miserable way to live and will only drag you down. Get her help!
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:55 AM on March 2, 2006

One of the things I encourage my sad, depressed friends to do is take advantage of medical insurance - if they have it - and make arrangements to begin seeing a therapist or counselor. There are all sorts of neurological ailments that can be cured, mitigated or helped with medication and therapy.

However, tread lightly - especially if your girlfriend doesn't think that she is a hypochondriac. Perhaps sit down and talk with her about it the next time it comes up - suggest that you're really sad that you see her making herself so miserable and anxious and would like to see her get help. Even offer to go with her to sessions.

Making it seem like you want to help her and that your efforts are being made because you love her and not because the behavior is bothering you and you're pushing her away....will make the process so much easier and may serve to enhance your relationship.
posted by bkdelong at 6:42 AM on March 2, 2006

I'm a raging hypochondriac. Certifiable. What's helped me, besides therapy, is being as healthy as possible. I'm a vegetarian and cook nearly all my meals from scratch, with plenty of fruits and veggies. I exercise daily. When I have insurance, I get yearly physicals. This way, I can better convince myself that I'm in great shape and in all probabilty, not dying. The only time this fails to work is when I get sick, and then I have the plague or all sorts of unnamed diseases. In that type of situation, it helps to have someone give me positive reassurance that I'm not, in fact, dying. Also, the times I HAVE been sicker than normal and needed to go to the doctor/hospital, it felt different than my hypochondriac bouts. I've learned to trust my body's intuition about these things, and pick up on small signals. I don't doubt I'll be panicky about medical things for the rest of my life, but I'm not debilitated as I once was.

Another tip: along with hypochondria comes depression/anxiety issues. With my hypochondria, it worsens in times of inactivity. This doesn't mean I can't ever relax, but on days where I'm depressed and sitting in front of the computer all morning or not doing something that feels productive, even as small as washing the dishes, then my mind goes into a cycle of overthinking. You might tell your girlfriend to complete at least one task a day she feels good about so her brain can calm down.

Good luck!
posted by Zosia Blue at 6:53 AM on March 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Right, as everyone points out, you can't make anyone fix themselves if they aren't ready.

When she is ready, the Anxiety & Phobia Workbook is quite helpful. It stresses taking responsibility for recovery without accepting blame for the illness. After a brief introduction to different types of phobias, anxieties, panic disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders (and their possible origins), the workbook moves right into specific strategies for dealing with anxieties.
posted by xyzzy at 8:46 AM on March 2, 2006

[fixed scody's typo]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:59 AM on March 2, 2006

Stop reassuring her. Do not be a party to those types of conversations at all. It may sound harsh, but I had horrible hypochondria for years, and my friends and family doing this is what saved me. Forget medication. She need to deal with it, not mask it.
posted by exacta_perfecta at 11:33 AM on March 2, 2006

Friend A's hypochondria is linked to panic attacks & anxiety, probably physiological. She's going the meds route. She's been told exercises designed to counteract physiological stress responses might help. (And xyzzy, thanks, I'll tell her about the workbook.)

Friend B's hypochondria is linked to a childhood in which she had to take care of herself AND her mother. She has no root feeling that the world is safe / okay. She's going the cognitive therapy route. Realizing that there is a real reason she is over-vigilant, and that I'm lucky I didn't have to develop such vigilance, helped me understand and be patient.

Both friends know their worries are "unreasonable" and have been working on it for years. I wouldn't expect fast change and would focus equally on developing strategies to maintain your own sanity and patience. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 11:41 AM on March 2, 2006

Forget medication. She need to deal with it, not mask it.

Whoa. Hold on for a second, Mr. Cruise. Could you be any more offensive to those of us who have been dealing with this for years?

Medication is not used to mask the problem. OCD is caused by a specific set of chemical imbalances in the brain. The only thing that will set those straight is medicine.

She can learn to deal with her symptoms by learning congnitive coping skills, but the underlying problem will still be there.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 12:35 PM on March 2, 2006

DieHipsterDie is right on the money. Try telling a diabetic or any other person with a health problem to just skip the drugs and "deal with it." Jeezus.
posted by bim at 2:58 PM on March 2, 2006

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