Dealing With Hypochondria In College

Some key points from my recent interview about hypochondria on

1. What is hypochondria, and how does it differ from just general anxiety?

For most college students, attending college is their first opportunity to live away from home. As you try to adjust to the hectic lifestyle, it’s not unusual to feel a little run down at times, tired, or develop a cough or cold, or just some excess aches and pain from too much working out or too much fun. As a result, you may end up in Student Health Services to get treatment or at least reassurance that you’re fine. But college can also be a source of tremendous anxiety as well - academic as well as socially. Things can feel overwhelming, confusing, and a little out of control. Feeling anxious about such things is appropriate and understandable. Sometimes, however, that anxiety can manifest itself in ways where you can become overly focused on physical problems, rather than looking at all the potential factors contributing to it.

The term Hypochondria, although commonly used, is no longer listed by itself in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, put out by the American Psychiatric Association. It is now broken up into two categories: Illness Anxiety Disorder and Somatic Symptom Disorder. Illness Anxiety Disorder is when you excessively worry about whether you are or may become seriously ill. You may have no physical symptoms, or if you do have some kind of mild discomfort or unusual body sensation, you believe it is part of a much more serious illness, even though there is no significant evidence. In somatic symptom disorder, you may find yourself focused on one or two physical problems you may be dealing with, such as pain or fatigue, and become convinced you have a major illness to the point it consumes you. In other cases, you may be at high risk of developing a medical problem and you excessively worry about it. People with these problems will often go to see multiple doctors and are frustrated when no illness is identified. Others spend excessive time online searching medical symptoms they may or may not have, trying to make a diagnosis on their own. This commonly happens to first year medical or nursing students, where the extensive study of various illnesses may be stressful enough that students begin to believe they may be suffering from a variety of maladies.

2. How can I tell if I actually have hypochondria?

If you find yourself going to the health clinic and you receive assurance that you’re not suffering a major illness, it is often sufficient to reduce the worry. If you find yourself returning repeatedly to Student Health with the same problem, or going frequently for multiple different problems in a short period of time, or obsess about it to the point that you find yourself going to one or more different medical specialists if you are unsatisfied with the Student Health evaluations and you’re still not getting relief, this may suggest you’ve become excessively focused on your physical problems. It doesn’t mean the pain or fatigue isn't real, but ruminating about the problem constantly and obsessing about it for extended periods of time inevitably makes the symptoms worse. It can also become a problem when the excessive worry starts to impact your relationships with others or preventing you from enjoying your college experience.

3. What are the best ways to cope with hypochondria while living in a shared space in college where you have so little control?

   A. Stop consulting with Dr. Google. Excessive time online researching these subjects often lead you down a dizzying array of subjects, many of which are completely irrelevant and the continued pursuance of them makes matters worse. It can become unproductive and time-consuming.

   B. Focus on the things you can control. Make sure to get plenty of exercise. Avoid caffeine and recreational drug use, both of which can exacerbate the symptoms. Reduce your carbs and fast food, focusing on eating balanced meals. Get enough sleep.

   C. Enjoy your friends and yourself. Seek pleasurable activities you can do alone or with others. Take an exercise class. Bike. Meditate. Take yoga. 

   D. Get counseling if the problems persist. Helping to address the sources of the anxiety that may be exacerbating things, such as a roommate difficulty, problems in interpersonal relationships, intimacy problems, or depression, can make a great difference. Colleges often have counseling centers that offer an opportunity to talk with professionals, or can help you find providers to give you the therapy and treatment you need. 


For more info from the Mayo Clinic -