From time to time, it’s normal to worry about having cancer or any other illness. Many people wonder if they are sick or ill somewhat regularly, especially after an unexpected changes in how we feel or random twinge of pain. However, if your thoughts of having cancer are impacting your day-to-day activities, it may be a sign that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects people from all walks of life. It occurs when someone is triggered through a cycle of obsessions, which are unwanted thoughts or urges, that leads to compulsions, behaviors that are carried out in an attempt to get rid of the obsession or decrease any stress or anxiety you might be feeling about it.
Like worrying about having cancer, most people have some level of these thoughts and behaviors during their lifetime. However, when the cycle of obsessions and compulsions becomes extreme and affects daily life, it may be a sign of something more serious like OCD or hypochondriasis.
Is it hypochondriasis (Illness Anxiety Disorder) or OCD?
When you’re constantly worried that you might have cancer, there’s a possibility that it could be a sign of OCD or illness anxiety disorder. What are the differences between OCD and Illness Anxiety Disorder, and how can you tell if you have one or the other?
A hypochondriac, someone who has illness anxiety disorder, focuses on physical sensations and worries excessively that they have a serious or life-threatening illness. For example, they may worry that any kind of headache is a brain tumor, or that a single sneeze could be a deadly allergic reaction. The constant health worries can interfere with careers, relationships and day-to-day activities.
Unlike a hypochondriac, someone with OCD typically doesn’t have physical symptoms or “proof” to validate their obsessions. They fear getting a disease rather than fearing they have a disease, and this fear can take its toll on everyday life. They may spend hours googling certain diseases to see if they have them or to find reassurance that they don’t. They might rely on statistics to rule out diseases or obsess about obscure symptoms to confirm or dispute their worst fears.
While there are key differences between illness anxiety disorder and OCD, there are also ways the two are similar beyond the daily impact on life. Both enact compulsions of some kind, such as constantly going to the doctor, seeking reassurance from others or WebMD-ing their symptoms. These things are all done to try to reduce anxiety about the obsession.
If you find yourself constantly worried about having cancer, it’s possible that you may have OCD. To be certain, it’s best to find a therapist to receive a diagnosis. Once you’re diagnosed, your therapist will determine the best treatment option for your individual situation, and one of those options is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.
ERP is known as the gold standard of OCD treatment, and studies have shown that it is the most effective way to treat OCD. ERP helps people learn how to identify and cope with their triggers, and it allows you to be guided through exposure to your obsessions to present an opportunity to work on preventing a compulsive or ritualistic response in a safe and controlled environment. As the exposure is repeated, you’ll learn how to not act on the compulsion, and over time, the obsession will start to weaken.
If you’re experiencing obsessive thoughts about having cancer that are interfering with your daily life, help is available. The best news is that this can all be done from the comfort of your home — NOCD offers video therapy in all 50 states and outside the US, and virtual ERP can be even more effective than in-person treatment, according to research. Once you begin treatment, you can be well on your way to living a life free of your fears.