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If You’re Going To Google Your Health Symptoms, Here’s How To Do It Right

Here’s how to spot bad medical information — and how to stop freaking yourself out as you do your research.

Researching what’s going on with your body can quickly turn from empowering to frightening. Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the correct information.

If the first thing you do when you feel a sniffle or twinge is head to the internet to try to figure out what’s going on, you’re in good company. Surveys suggest about 90% of patients Google their symptoms before they talk to their doctor.

But it can, of course, quickly go awry. Mental health experts now recognize “cyberchondria” — repeated, compulsive internet searches for medical info that can lead to worry and panic — as a real and troubling phenomenon.

Misguided Google searches can also be a deep source of frustration for doctors and other health care providers who say they spend a good chunk of their time with patients tackling inaccurate health advice and self-diagnoses.

“When I hear a patient say, ‘I Googled it,’ I think: OK. How much misinformation am I going to have to dispel?” said Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician at Rooks County Health Center in Kansas, adding that her patients are often fully aware they’ve unnecessarily freaked themselves out.

“None of us can help it!” Oller said. “I don’t blame people for trying to look up their symptoms.”

She’s also certainly had patients who have used the internet to advocate for the care they need — like women who have come to her wondering about ADHD. (The symptoms often go unrecognized in women.) Or patients who have pushed to get necessary cancer screenings.

So how can you make sure you’re using “Dr. Google” effectively? Here are five simple best practices to keep in mind.

1. Start with the websites of major health organizations, universities and hospitals

Inaccurate health information is, of course, everywhere online. Last year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, identified misinformation as a public health crisis ― one that has led to many people eschewing COVID-19 vaccines and mask policies. Before the pandemic, health misinformation directly contributed to measles outbreaks across parts of the U.S.

One of the simplest ways to build what Murthy and other public health leaders call “information literacy” is just to start your search with well-known, reputable sources. Oller said you really can’t go wrong if you begin with the websites of major health organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (especially for COVID-19 information) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (which also has HealthyChildren.org specifically for parents and caregivers). The American Academy of Family Physicians also has a patient-facing website full of helpful information, she added.

Many hospitals and universities also have websites with evidence-based health information ― for example, the Mayo Clinic (which lets you search by conditions and has a symptom checker) and Cleveland Clinic. You might move on to specific studies, articles or even forums and support groups from there, but it’s a good idea to root yourself in basic information from a carefully vetted site.

“It’s important always to get your information from reputable sources, but it’s especially so when it comes to medical things,” Oller said.


2. Brush up on some study basics

It’s wonderful and empowering that so much research is now directly available online, often without a subscription through a place like PubMed (the major database for scientific papers). But not all studies are created equal.

Look for some basics that can help indicate whether a study holds up: Was it published in a peer-reviewed journal? That means it has been scrutinized by other experts in the field for quality and accuracy. If so, which journal? What was the sample size like? What limitations have the study’s authors pointed out? Are they transparent about the questions their research cannot address? Who funded the research? And have the researchers disclosed any conflicts of interest?

It can also be useful to look for media coverage of a study, because in an ideal world, health reporters and editors are doing their due diligence when deciding what to cover. Did any news outlets pick it up? Who? What did any outside experts they interviewed about the research have to say? Keep in mind: Researchers have found that studies that can’t be replicated (meaning basically that they’re bad science) tend to be cited and shared more than those that can.

“It can be tough for medical providers, absolutely, to look at a study and tell if it’s reliable or not,” Oller said. “I absolutely understand why, for the lay person, it’s even more difficult.”

If you’re worried, chatting with a doctor is always your best bet.

3. Check on how your search is making you feel

If you’re searching your symptoms and getting really stressed out, that’s an immediate red flag. Instead of working yourself into a panic, reach out to an actual medical professional who can help provide answers.

“I’ll tell my patients: ‘If you’re noticing that the search you’re going on is increasing your anxiety, then it’s time to call your family doc and talk to me about it,’” Oller said.

Patients also sometimes have the opposite problem, she noted. So they might spend time searching for reassuring stories or anecdotes that they use to try to feel better or ignore their symptoms.

“It might be a serious symptom that really does need to be looked at,” Oller said, “and they find something that says, ‘Well, this wasn’t anything for me.’ So they go, ‘OK, well it’s probably not anything for me either.’”

As you’re searching, do a gut check. Are you making yourself feel stressed or anxious? Are you trying too hard to push away your nagging concerns?

4. Keep track of any sources you find and want to discuss

As you move through your internet search, be sure to jot down the articles or websites you visit. If a particular study or article is of interest, save it. That way, when you go to your doctor, you bring a list of links that you can discuss together.

Oller said she sometimes has patients who come to her wanting to talk about a particular study they saw shared somewhere, but can’t remember where it was or what exactly it claimed.

Your health care provider should be open to talking with you about any research you bring up. If they’re dismissive — without taking the time to explain why they’re skeptical of certain sources, or carefully explaining why they don’t think they apply to you — it might be time to look for a second opinion. Experts should acknowledge that patient research can be a very good thing.

5. When in doubt, talk to an actual health care provider

At the end of the day, nothing beats going to an an actual doctor, nurse or health care clinic (in person or virtually!) to get answers to the health questions and concerns you have. In fact, Oller said one easy way to know whether you’ve landed at a reputable health website during your search is that those sites tend to direct you to see a health care provider. Credible websites are transparent about the limits of an online search.

“Those sites are the ones that at the end of any entry say ‘Please talk to your primary care doc if any of these things seem true or if you have questions,’” she said. “They’re the ones that lead people toward getting that next evaluation they need.”

By Catherine Pearson      Mar. 14, 2022

source: www.huffpost.com

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How To Ease Some Of The Vicarious Trauma You May Be Feeling Right Now

It’s normal to feel anxious as you follow what’s unfolding in Ukraine. Here’s how to stay informed while protecting your mental health.

Thanks to social media, news reports and violent images that bombard us at all hours, we often experience what experts call vicarious trauma when a horrific event occurs ― like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which as of Thursday morning had reportedly resulted in at least 40 deaths. It’s in our physiological nature as human beings to feel some amount of empathy and sorrow for others dealing with a traumatic event. Even though we’re not physically present, we still feel the mental health effects of what’s going on.

This is applicable to any grim situation. An impending war, a relentless virus, a devastating mass shooting ― you don’t have to be immersed in the crisis to be affected by it. If you are dealing with feelings of unrest, anxiety or doom right now, know that it’s completely normal. And while you may not be able to abate it entirely, there are ways to make it more manageable.

Here’s some advice on how to handle the emotions associated with vicarious trauma right now:

Follow trusted sources.

Disinformation spreads like wildfire during times of crisis. Make sure you’re following credible sources and engaging with confirmed reports, tweets and other content. (And remember that just because a Twitter account is verified doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.) If possible, try to find multiple sources confirming the same information before you share or even necessarily believe a report. Spreading and buying into inaccurate stories, photos and videos only contributes to your own panic and anxiety, and the panic and anxiety of others.

Set a few boundaries to prevent excessive doomscrolling.

It’s unrealistic to suggest logging off entirely, but it’s vital to set some boundaries when it comes to social media. Stay informed, then give your brain a break.

For example, try setting aside a block of time to check in on the news. If you find yourself reaching for your phone at night when you can’t sleep, try directing your attention to a lighter part of the internet instead of scrolling through headlines.

“Social media is a gift and a curse, but I’ve begun using it to find someone or something new,” Racine Henry, a therapist and owner of Sankofa Marriage and Family Therapy in New York, told me in December. “I limit myself to the explore page of either Instagram or Twitter and click around until something piques my interest. Or I watch random videos on Facebook of people making an extravagant cake or applying a complicated makeup look. I will never do any of the things I watch, but it’s entertaining and there are endless videos available.”

Turn to mental health experts on social media.

During tumultuous times, I personally find it soothing to read quotes and hear takes from mental health professionals, whether on Twitter, Instagram or even TikTok.

There are tons of great therapists who offer soothing words of wisdom on social media (here are a few of my favorite follows). Whatever they post online shouldn’t be taken as direct mental health advice, but it can serve as a calming voice when your brain is otherwise racing.

Try to keep a normal routine.

Speaking of scrolling late into the night, do everything within your power to stick to your normal schedule. That includes bedtimes, wake times, working if you’re able to handle it, and any other regular aspects of your routine.

When tragic events happen, “we feel a loss of control in our lives and everything going on around us,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, previously told me. “The more we can stick to our normal routines, the more our brains and our bodies feel like we’re back in control.”

It can be hard to shake the emotions that arise when following the news.

Move your body in some way.

Our emotions need a physical outlet. To relieve some of that anxiety and tension, try gently moving your body. This could mean going for a walk, doing some light stretching, taking a home boxing class, or whatever it is that helps you feel good. The idea is less about exercise per se and more about finding a tangible way to get out your feelings. And speaking of which…

Cry if you need to.

It’s not frivolous to feel affected by what’s happening in the world right now. Suppressing anything you might be feeling only contributes to poor mental health. Experts emphasize that it’s vital to acknowledge how you’re feeling, instead of dismissing it in the hopes of gaining some sense of ease. That might include crying (and research shows that crying can be a therapeutic release).

Be mindful of your other coping mechanisms.

I’ve certainly defaulted to grabbing drinks with friends in the midst of a stressful situation or pouring a glass of wine as I park myself in front of the TV. In moderation, that’s a normal part of our culture as long as you’re not living with a substance use issue. But you should definitely be aware of these habits and be mindful of when they might turn into something more insidious.

If you’re turning to alcohol or other unhealthy coping mechanisms as a crutch, you should reach out to a professional or someone who can help you process what’s happening in a healthier way. Experts stress that these behaviors often worsen your mental health if they turn into a reliance.

Reach out for extra support.

This could be to your therapist, your loved ones, your co-workers or anyone you trust when it comes to sharing your feelings. Support systems are crucial during periods of unrest and trauma.

“When we are distressed by something, the more we talk about it, the better off we are going to be,” Reidenberg previously advised. “There’s only so much ‘yuck’ we can handle before it begins to come out in unhealthy ways … so if you are feeling distress, say so.”

Pay attention to how you feel and behave in the coming days. If you notice you’re withdrawing from others, not keeping up with a standard routine, or feeling intense emotions that make it difficult to function, it’s time to seek professional mental health advice. (The same applies if you notice this happening with loved ones.) This type of reaction is a completely normal response to what’s going on in the world; a therapist can give you the tools to make it more manageable.

By Lindsay Holmes   02/24/2022 

Source: Huffington Post


 As Russia Invades Ukraine,
Tips to Manage ‘Headline Anxiety’

By Damian McNamara, MA

Turn to any news channel, news site, or social media platform, and you’re bound to see continuous updates on the situation in Ukraine, the individual and public health toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing political and racial divisiveness in the United States, and more.

So how can someone who wants to keep up on developments protect themselves from stress, anxiety, and dysfunction when such negative news seems to be everywhere?

Today’s news will induce even more anxiety than usual. The sight of plants & gentle colour gradation alleviates stress. 15 mins walking in a green space dials down blood pressure, pulse rate, stress hormone levels (cortisol) & lifts mood but if that’s tricky my photos may help. pic.twitter.com/3ktiVe4APB

— Emma Mitchell 💙 (@silverpebble) February 24, 2022

“I think everyone’s experiencing some degree of anxiety about what’s happening in the world,” says Michael Ziffra, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago.

It’s a matter of severity; being anxious is a normal human reaction, he says. But watching the news becomes a problem if it “makes it hard for you to do what you need to do and just sort of enjoy life.”

Different people will react differently, but in general, “the sign that it’s getting a bit too much is if you cannot stop or pull yourself away from it,” he says.

It also can be a problem if someone spends a lot of time obsessing or ruminating about negative news while off screen, to the point that it disrupts their work or home life, Ziffra says.

When Stressors Stack Up

A cumulative effect is also possible when negative news updates come close together.

“Clearly, what we’re experiencing right now is unprecedented — all this happening at once — prolonged pandemic, the political turmoil, the war, climate change,” Ziffra says.

Long-term exposure to stressors generally worsens anxiety, he says.

Although the effects of chronic stress vary from person to person, many have feelings of depression, anxiousness, sleep disruption, and fatigue.

Uncertainty Can Up the Anxiety

A stressful event generally has a beginning and end, which can help people manage their reactions to it. In contrast, some of the current stressful situations carry more uncertainty.

“Look at what’s going on in the world right now. We still don’t know how things are going to play out with the pandemic or with the Russia and Ukraine conflict,” Ziffra says.

I stopped watching the news after Jan 6 bc the fixation was so unhealthy. For the first time ever something really snapped and I said you know what, I can’t do this to my anxiety anymore.

— Angela (@TheKitchenista) February 24, 2022

If someone has a relative or friends in Ukraine, keeping up on developments is normal, he says. But “people need to be mindful of the fact that they’re going to be very sensitive to the latest developments.”

Avoid looking at photos or watching videos coming out of Ukraine, he says, because they can be graphic. Instead, restrict your exposure to written news updates.

In addition, Ziffra suggests anyone feeling more stress or anxiety than usual seek out their friends and other social contacts. Because most of the country is not in a COVID-19 lockdown, it is easier to reach out to friends and family now for support.

Prescient Advice

In March 2020, ahead of the divisive federal elections and the beginning of the pandemic, Ziffra wrote “5 Ways to Cope with the News” on the Northwestern Medicine website. His suggestions on ways to avoid triggers and manage stress still apply today, he says.

Okay so it’s bad domestic and world news time, you wanna be in the know but you don’t want to make your anxiety worse. Here’s some tips:

– Rather than “hearing every side” prioritize news sources with some kind of journalistic integrity.

— jupitarian decadence as praxis 🍋 (@praxisastrology) February 24, 2022

He warned at the time that “developing obsessive habits of consuming news and information can be dangerous to your mental health.” In addition, social media can intensify the effects of news overload.

Also recognize that obsessing over the news is very common. Ziffra wrote, “We’re in very uncertain times, and times of uncertainty tend to be very anxiety-provoking for people.”

Michael Ziffra, MD,
associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences,
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Feb. 24, 2022

source:  WebMD

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Whether people inform themselves or remain ignorant is due to three factors

People choose whether to seek or avoid information about their health, finances and personal traits based on how they think it will make them feel, how useful it is, and if it relates to things they think about often, finds a new study.

People choose whether to seek or avoid information about their health, finances and personal traits based on how they think it will make them feel, how useful it is, and if it relates to things they think about often, finds a new study by UCL researchers.

Most people fall into one of three ‘information-seeking types’: those that mostly consider the impact of information on their feelings when deciding whether to get informed, those that mostly consider how useful information will be for making decisions, and those that mostly seek information about issues they think about often, according to the findings published in Nature Communications.

Co-lead author Professor Tali Sharot (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences and Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research) said: “Vast amounts of information are now available to individuals. This includes everything from information about your genetic make-up to information about social issues and the economy. We wanted to find out: how do people decide what they want to know? And why do some people actively seek out information, for example about COVID vaccines, financial inequality and climate change, and others don’t?

“The information people decide to expose themselves to has important consequences for their health, finance and relationships. By better understanding why people choose to get informed, we could develop ways to convince people to educate themselves.”

The researchers conducted five experiments with 543 research participants, to gauge what factors influence information-seeking.

In one of the experiments, participants were asked how much they would like to know about health information, such as whether they had an Alzheimer’s risk gene or a gene conferring a strong immune system. In another experiment, they were asked whether they wanted to see financial information, such as exchange rates or what income percentile they fall into, and in another one, whether they would have liked to learn how their family and friends rated them on traits such as intelligence and laziness.

Later, participants were asked how useful they thought the information would be, how they expected it would make them feel, and how often they thought about each subject matter in question.


The researchers found that people choose to seek information based on these three factors: expected utility, emotional impact, and whether it was relevant to things they thought of often. This three-factor model best explained decisions to seek or avoid information compared to a range of other alternative models tested.

Some participants repeated the experiments a couple of times, months apart. The researchers found that most people prioritise one of the three motives (feelings, usefulness, frequency of thought) over the others, and their specific tendency remained relatively stable across time and domains, suggesting that what drives each person to seek information is ‘trait-like’.

In two experiments, participants also filled out a questionnaire to gauge their general mental health. The researchers found that when people sought information about their own traits, participants who mostly wanted to know about traits they thought about often, reported better mental health.

Co-lead author, PhD student Christopher Kelly (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences and Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research) said: “By understanding people’s motivations to seek information, policy makers may be able to increase the likelihood that people will engage with and benefit from vital information. For example, if policy makers highlight the potential usefulness of their message and the positive feelings that it may elicit, they may improve the effectiveness of their message.

“The research can also help policy makers decide whether information, for instance on food labels, needs to be disclosed, by describing how to fully assess the impact of information on welfare. At the moment policy-makers overlook the impact of information on people’s emotions or ability to understand the world around them, and focus only on whether information can guide decisions.”

The study was funded by Wellcome.

December 3, 2021      University College London

Story Source:

Materials provided by University College London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Christopher. A. Kelly, Tali Sharot. Individual differences in information-seeking. Nature Communications,
2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27046-5

source: www.sciencedaily.com