How to Live with a Hypochondriac

Three Methods:Helping Someone with HypochondriaGetting Professional HelpStaying Balanced

Hypochondria, now called Illness Anxiety Disorder, is not only difficult for the person living with it, but also for those who love and care for the person.[1] Living with someone who has hypocondriasis can be easier if you learn as much as you can about the condition, and be sure your loved one gets professional help. Learn how to help a friend or family member who has hypocondriasis, and take care of yourself, too.

Method 1
Helping Someone with Hypochondria

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    Understand that hypochondria creates real distress. Hypochondria is a mental disorder, just like depression or OCD, and a real illness. Even if the illness is not real, the stress feels very real.[2] Severe illness seems like a serious possibility to your loved one, and bland reassurances won't make it go away.
    • In everyday life, we are sometimes overwhelmed with news reports about another round of bird flu sweeping the world or toxins in food that cause cancer. Helping a person who has hypocondriasis avoid as much of this information as possible will help to filter some of that out.[3]
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    Listen, even if the claims sound bizarre or made up. Those who are struggling with hypochondria need to be heard. This helps to prevent anxiety and panic which can be caused by being ignored. If no one seems to take notice, your loved one’s beliefs about the illness may multiply, causing him or her to believe that the fictional condition is getting worse.
    • Active listening does not mean agreeing with the person’s fear. It means giving your loved one the time to be heard in a supportive manner and letting your loved one know you are hearing his or her concerns.[4]
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    Acknowledge the symptoms and give gentle reminders. People who have illness anxiety disorder tend to worry excessively about their symptoms.[5] By acknowledging your loved one’s symptoms, you may help to validate his or her feelings. This puts the person at ease. By gently suggesting the pain he or she is from a less serious cause, you can also offer an easier solution to your loved one’s fears.
    • For example, you might say "I get similar shoulder aches from carrying a heavy backpack. Maybe you're tense or sore from activity."
    • Or, "Stomach pains usually don't mean stomach cancer. What's most likely is that you are stressed, under the weather, or digesting something that didn't agree with you."
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    Offer to treat the symptoms, without rushing to determine a cause. If your loved one has a stomachache, offer stomach pills. If your loved one’s shoulder hurts, offer to show him or her some stretches. Doing something about your loved one’s symptoms--even something small--can help your loved one stop obsessing over the symptoms.
    • Treat the pain or complaint without speculating about the possible diagnosis. Overreacting and assuming the worst is a big part of their stress so avoid buying into this stress.
    • Assume that the symptoms are real. Your loved one is certainly experiencing real pain. He or she might have a physical cause, such as knee strain or mild flu, or it may be caused by stress. Either way, your loved one will probably benefit from treatment. Seek medical advice from a trusted doctor to address the pain.[6]
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    Encourage your loved one to do activities that he or she enjoys. Try getting your loved one to go outdoors or to engage in a favorite activity. This may help your loved one remember that she is more than her symptoms, and may take her mind off of worries for a while. Getting more physical activity can be especially helpful for anxiety, well-being, and physical condition.[7]

Method 2
Getting Professional Help

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    Accompany your loved one to a doctor. Allow your loved one to explain the symptoms to the doctor. If the doctor does not identify hypochondria, then you may want to take the doctor aside and briefly explain your concerns.
    • The doctor may refer to it as Illness Anxiety Disorder because this is the DSM-V term for hypochondria.[8]
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    Help your loved one decide on treatment options. Hypochondria may be treated with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, and/or psychological therapy. Make arrangements for the person to see a therapist around once a week if possible.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may be an effective approach as well as gradual exposure therapy.[9]
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    Discuss the possibility of comorbid issues. People with hypochondria may also experience anxiety disorders and/or depression.[10] Consider getting your loved one screened for these conditions as well.
    • If your loved one is nervous, assure them that the screening just means filling out a form about their symptoms. Remember fear is a big part of the disorder but listening to their concerns will often help with this.
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    Attend support groups for this condition. A person with hypocondriasis may be able to locate a nearby support group for individuals with this condition. It may also be helpful for your loved one to attend a support group for anxiety, as the two are closely related.[11]
    • There are support groups offered for both the person with the condition and the family support members. Make sure to ask the professional treating the hypochondriac for suggestions of a local support group.

Method 3
Staying Balanced

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    Set boundaries as needed. Your health is your first responsibility. It's okay to end a conversation or demand space if being around your loved one suffering with hypochondria is making you anxious. Try gently changing the subject. Otherwise, tell your loved one that you need some quiet time, or that you're going to take a break.
    • It may be hard at first to step away and follow through with the boundaries you set, but sticking to them will reinforce them over time.
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    Help your loved one build a support system. You don't need to be your loved one’s only helper. Encourage your loved one to reach out to others, so that he or she is getting support from various sources. Support can come from family members, friends, coworkers, religious groups, counselors, and members of a support group.
    • Not only will this benefit both of you, but the more people that know about the disorder and can offer true support, the better. Hiding the diagnosis can result in someone with hypocondriasis seeking out people to talk to that do not know about the disorder with who they can draw into the imagined crisis.[12]
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    Give yourself plenty of time to relax. You can't help a drowning person if you're barely afloat yourself. Spend time each day doing something you enjoy, so that you can be at your best mental health.
    • Self-care can be anything you feel good doing or that helps you relax. The beauty of self-care is it is up to you to choose if you relax better by getting a massage, spending quiet time reading or even doing intense exercise.
    • Find a confidante whom you can talk to about your struggles. This should be someone who is removed from the situation who can listen without judgment.
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    Talk to a therapist if you are overwhelmed. It’s difficult to pour into someone else’s cup when your own is empty. Find a source of support for yourself in the form of a counselor or therapist. This person can offer you helpful suggestions as to how to cope with living with someone who has hypocondriasis and how to help your loved one better.
    • Talking to a therapist yourself can be a positive example for the person you are helping as well as a support for you. A person who has hypocondriasis may feel ashamed about getting therapy and you seeking services can actually normalize the process for him.[13]
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    Do fun things together to maintain a positive connection. Reinforcing the positive will show your loved one that he or she can enjoy life and get positive attention for things beyond always being “sick”.
    • Fun things can be virtually anything that allows the two of you to bond and change the dialogue from an illness. Examples may include engaging in a sport, watching a movie, or planning an exciting vacation.


  • Keep an eye out for suicidal thoughts. Hypochondria may lead to depression, which carries a risk for suicide. Call a doctor right away if your loved one expresses a desire to die, disappear, or "not be a burden anymore."
  • Do not confuse hypochondria with pretending to have an illness. People with hypocondriasis truly fear that they are sick, and are not doing it for attention or with manipulative intent.

Article Info

Categories: Emotional Conditions | Anxiety Disorders