For some people, a natural bodily symptom can trigger a bout of anxiety that can wreak havoc on their mental health. For these people suffering from “somatic symptom disorder,” the body and mind seem to constantly be at war with each other. Read on to find out more about this interesting group of disorders and what to do for relief.

Somatic symptom disorders involve patients overwhelmingly preoccupied with physical symptoms that do not seem to point to a medical diagnosis. Whereas for most people an uncomfortable bodily sensation may be shrugged off or seen as part of the everyday experience, people with somatic symptom disorder are convinced that something terrible is wrong. In a recent USA Today article, several patients suffering from somatoform disorders shared their experiences, and how debilitating these conditions can be for them. One patient recounted how she would enter “I feel like I’m going to die” mode, searching online for symptoms for hours and taking her temperature repeatedly.. Another patient noted a direct correlation between her intake of news surrounding the pandemic and how much she was reading online about her perceived symptoms. COVID-19 certainly exacerbated this anxiety in some patients with somatic symptom disorder.

Some people with a somatic symptom disorder may even have insight into the fact that their mind is running wild with anxiety, further heightening the physical symptoms. They may try to resist the urge to go into the doctor or emergency room, but they often think, “what if the one time I don’t go to the ER for help, I actually do die from a heart attack?” This vicious cycle of anxiety can cause people suffering from somatoform disorders to isolate from friends and family, miss days from work, and have a poorer quality of life. 

Clearly, for people with anxiety disorders, statements like “just relax” or “try not to worry” can be downright harmful. It can add shame to people who are already suffering. Some helpful tips to patients who may be suffering from a somatoform disorder include limiting the amount of “self-diagnosis” or online research. Seeking therapy can be a critical step, as can mindfulness techniques. In most cases medications aren’t indicated for somatoform disorders, unless there is evidence of depression or another anxiety disorder. So therapy is the gold standard. Frequent check-ins with a therapist can be helpful for patients with somatoform disorders.  It’s important to know how to guide somatic symptom disorder patients so they can have relief. If you would like to get in touch with our therapists, please call or book your free consultation today.

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