As we grow in years and experience we also become increasingly aware of the body we live in, its many quirks and tendencies, its propensity to certain reactions, urges, moods and whims, its aversion to certain conditions or experiences. In other words we become aware of our body as an entity with its own ‘personality’, traits and notions. And we learn how to listen to the messages and interpret the signals it communicates to us.
Our bodies talk to us through physical and sensory signals. We feel it when something is off, when our health is not as it usually is, when our energy flags, when we experience discomfort, pain, unhappiness, moodiness. Some of us become acutely aware of those ‘off’ signals and very savvy on how to decode them. Others are not so in tune or just refuse to accept the body’s hints as significant, either through misplaced feelings of ‘gotta be tough and not a ninny’ or simple distrust of their ability to understand the body’s message. So they deliberately program themselves to ignore those important symptoms and go against the grain of the body’s natural and innate warning system. Not surprising that in so doing, people lose the ability to listen and interpret their body’s messages. But you do that at a price. Suppression of your body’s hints and warnings can lead to more discomfort and possible endangerment. Ignoring those signals may lead to a worse condition.
On the other hand, if you are over-listening and misinterpreting, you can set yourself up on the road to hypochondria. By definition hypochondria is an abnormal anxiety about the state of one’s health or an unwarranted fear that one has a serious disease or medical condition. Hypochondria is often characterized by fears that minor bodily or mental symptoms may indicate a serious illness or medical condition. It expresses itself through a preoccupation with one’s body, constant self-examination and attempts at self-diagnosis.
Hypochondria is like a self-fulfilling prophesy because overwhelming health anxiety can actually create symptoms like stomach aches, dizziness, chest pain or other discomforts. The cause of hypochondria is not well researched, but certain factors may increase the risk of developing it. Factors such as major life stresses, a history of childhood abuse or neglect, or any number of dysfunctional events or circumstances we experienced growing up.
As we age every little thing wrong with us can bring on thoughts of a worst case scenario. Yes, we ultimately have to die of something but don’t go looking to every little twinge or burp as the beginning of the end, or the onset of a serious illness or problem.
It may not even be real symptoms in our own bodies that set us on the path to becoming a hypochondriac. At a certain age we see our contemporaries dying or taken down by dreadful and fatal diseases. That drives up our own anxiety a notch or two. Especially now, when we are being bombarded with daily news about the pandemic Covid-19 virus that has been insidiously charging through the world and seems to claim more victims every day and in yet another country or part of the world. Yes, it is something to be mildly concerned about and follow up on but it should not create a panic to the point you are isolating yourself from the world for fear of contagion.
It is situations like this that play into the hands of hypochondria. Don’t fall for it. Flu like symptoms or a dry cough does not automatically indicate you caught that dreaded virus. Ask yourself what are the chances? Evaluate your position, arm yourself with reliable information about the virus and the ways to prevent it, but don’t go panicking because a few cases have been reported in Indonesia.
How not to become a hypochondriac in your old age. Keep level headed and balanced. Not just for this Corona scare but for all the other stuff you think your body is throwing at you. After all, when you were 25 you did not automatically think of grave diseases and death when you felt unwell. Our mindset should not play tricks on us just because we’re older. At age 25, when you forget where you put your car keys, you think you have a moment of scatter-brain; you do not think this is a first symptom of Alzheimer’s. When you break a bone at 25, you may think it is because you were clumsy or rash, not because your bones are old and brittle. When we were 25 and dizzy we blamed it on a hangover or too little sleep, now we seem to think dizziness is a symptom of something ominously wrong. And a persistent headache does not necessarily develop into a brain tumour.
The point I’m trying to make is that, when we feel unwell, we should not automatically think something is seriously wrong with our health. That serves no purpose and self-diagnosis can become a slippery path.
When young, we took our lumps, bumps and twinges without much of a second thought. We should do the same at an advanced age. It’s ok to Google symptoms but be aware that there is a lot of twattle on the internet that can potentially cause health anxiety and set you firmly on the path to becoming a certifiable hypochondriac. Google just about any symptom and you will surely see results that point to major health problems or connect the symptom with a form of cancer. These extreme conclusions can cause serious anxiety, especially for people who already have a propensity for worry and resort to obsessive googling of perceived symptoms.
Trust your intuition and your hunches and don’t get overwhelmed by the information overload and regurgitations on the internet, or panic when you read all the detailed contra-indications on the chits that are enclosed with your medicine. If you are unwell and experience symptoms, ask your body first what it could mean, and really listen. Many times our lack of energy is due to lack of sleep or stress, not a beginning of cancer. As a last resort, you can always get a second opinion by chatting up your personal physician.
The trouble with being a hypochondriac these days is that antibiotics have cured all the good diseases
By Ines Wynn
The Boomer Corner is a column dedicated to people over 60 living in Bali. Its mandate is to cover topics, practicalities, activities, issues, concerns and events related to senior life in Bali. We welcome suggestions from readers.
E-mail us at : Baliboomers@gmail.com
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