When Googling Becomes Too Much

I've been researching for an upcoming article for the site. When I'm looking for more information about AS, I Google whatever I've been thinking about. "How often do patients with AS have joint replacements? What are the prognoses for patients with AS? What are other diagnoses that often occur with AS?" My rational brain loves to read this content, but some days my emotional brain can't handle it.

Down the search engine hole

Today is one of those days. As I began reading journal articles and interviews with doctors, my stomach sank. I became jittery. I knew what was happening. My cyberchondria kicked in. Cyberchondria is health anxiety caused by internet searches. We know the stereotype--people who just search and search symptoms convinced they have some terrible illness. These concerns are often unwarranted. We've all had our fair share of Googling symptoms until we're convinced we have cancer, a tumor, infection, etc.

But what happens when the Googling is warranted? How do we handle the anxiety then?

I don't know what to call this new anxiety I'm encountering, but it's valid. My mind goes to dark places asking what could happen to my husband--the one with AS. What if he develops heart disease? What if his medication stops working? What if he goes into an eternal flare-up? The "What ifs...?" are never-ending. For anyone like myself who is empathic, reading these stories of others online can sometimes be too much for us.

How do I manage this anxiety?

  1. Note the feelings and thoughts that pop up while searching for symptoms. If they are stemming from anxiety, stop Googling. Unless there's something urgently happening, there's no reason to continue.
  2. Find a Google buddy. Find a friend or family member who can weed through the details to pick out the most important information. I will outline what questions I need answered and that person will go do the research then come back with answers.
  3. Ignore information that doesn't pertain to your reason for Googling. This is a trained skill but I've gotten better at it. Sometimes when I read pieces about how some patients develop heart disease, I focus on that piece and nothing else. However, my intent was to find information about secondary arthritis in the body.
  4. Take a deep breath. For me, I close my eyes and repeat, "I trust Keegan's doctor. I trust he will be okay." Just this moment of pausing provides enough time to acknowledge the feeling and letting it go.

It's okay to be anxious about the future of your disease

My husband gets anxious reading about AS sometimes. So do I. It's okay. Processing how AS affects us mentally is just as important as physically. It's not necessary to brush aside our feelings about the future. It's valid to be worried. Keegan and I both are in therapy to help us get through the acceptance of AS and to process changes that will inevitably come. What I've had to accept is that Google is not a crystal ball. How Keegan's AS will manifest will be different from others. It already has proven to go its own path from what I read on WebMD.

Use the information for good

Having information at our fingertips is a blessing, but it should be used for good. When the information is there only to fuel our anxieties about what our future could hold, it transforms into suffering. Data aren't inherently good or bad. How we interpret it, process it, and act on it is what really matters. So to those of us who Google, let us all make sure our research comes from good intent and ends with good outcomes.

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