Tag Archives: Psychology Today

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

New Haven. Photo: Wally Gobetz, Flickr

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

* * *

Read more…

What It’s Like to Have Hypochondria

Despite official recognition in the DSM, those with hypochondriasis are often treated with the respect and seriousness of a Scott Baio film festival. “It’s an obsession, and oftentimes people don’t want to listen to someone’s obsessions,” says Gail Martz-Nelson, a Denver psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders. “‘I’m terrified I have HIV, I’m terrified I have cancer, I’m terrified I have lymphoma.’ People hear that and dismiss it or laugh it off. But being a hypochondriac can be crippling. It’s not a joke.”

Generally speaking, hypochondriacs aren’t merely hypochondriacs. Most struggle with anxiety or depression—or both, says Swanljung. “When someone is anxious about having an illness, the anxiety level goes up, the stress level goes up,” he says. “That can lead to headaches, to stomach and digestive problems. Anxiety definitely can cause pain, and if you’re a hypochondriac you react to that pain in a unique way.”

No amount of reassurance helps.

“The brain is so powerful that it really can convince itself of illness,” says Caroline Goldmacher-Kern, a New York-based psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. “You know something is wrong because you believe what you’re thinking, and what you’re thinking is what you perceive to be feeling. So you can have five people tell you it’s all in your mind and that’s not good enough.”

In a piece for Psychology Today, a man with hypochondria attempts to understand his disorder.

Read the story

Painting: Court of Death via Wikimedia Commons

Why people can feel someone staring at them, experience deja vu, and other paranormal experiences:

One of the most common anomalous experiences is the sense of being stared at. When you see someone gazing directly at you, emotions become activated—it can be exciting or comforting or creepy—and this visceral charge can give the impression that gazes transfer energy. Further, if you feel uncomfortable and check to see whether someone is looking at you, your movement may draw attention—confirming your suspicions.

Another common experience is déjà vu, a phenomenon two in three people report. Most of us shrug it off as a mental hiccup. Indeed, researchers propose it’s a sense of familiarity without a recollection of why something is familiar, or perhaps a timing issue in the brain where thoughts are experienced twice because of a slight wiring delay, lending the second occurrence an odd sensation of repetition. But some people believe it’s a glimpse into a past life.

While anomalous experiences may be associated with stressful circumstances, personal pathologies, or cognitive deficits, the experiences themselves may not always be so bad, and may actually be healthy inventions. They’re just our attempts to make sense of a weird situation. After all, there’s nothing the mind likes better than a good story.

“Your Sixth Sense.” — Matthew Hutson, Psychology Today

More from Psychology Today

A man with hypochondria attempts to understand his disorder:

Eleven years ago, when he was still a medical resident at Columbia University, Fallon was asked to help a man who was convinced, despite medical results to the contrary, that he was saddled with a brain tumor. ‘He tried Prozac, and it made a dramatic change,’ Fallon says. ‘He went from irritable and hostile to grateful and happy that something was helping him. I thought, ‘Wow, this is fascinating.’ Because at that point so little was known.’

The use of Prozac and similar medications is now under formal study. Columbia’s Fallon and Arthur Barsky, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, are conducting the largest trial ever undertaken of the disorder. They are enrolling 264 hypochondriacs in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial comparing cognitive behavioral therapy, Prozac, and a combination of the two. They suspect that CBT and the drug will be equally effective, but that combination therapy will be even more effective for ‘this major public health disorder.’ ‘I don’t know what to expect,’ says Fallon. ‘But it will be very interesting.’

“Hypochondria: The Impossible Illness.” — Jeff Pearlman, Psychology Today, Jan. 1, 2010

More from Psychology Today

The story of the Polgar sisters, chess whizzes who were trained by their father from an early age:

When Susan was the age of many of her students, she dominated the New York Open chess competition. At 16 she crushed several adult opponents and landed on the front page of The New York Times. The tournament was abuzz not just with the spectacle of one pretty young powerhouse: Susan’s raven-haired sister Sophia, 11, swept most of the games in her section, too. But the pudgy baby of the family, 9-year-old Judit, drew the most gawkers of all. To onlookers’ delight, Judit took on five players simultaneously and beat them. She played blindfolded.

“The Grandmaster Experiment.” — Carlin Flora, Psychology Today

See also: “Game of Her Life.” — Tim Crothers, ESPN, Jan. 10, 2011

Photo: Nestor Galina/Flickr