We’re fretters by nature, they say, and doomscrolling could be making it worse! “People’s brains aren’t well equipped to deal with the information age,” said neuroscience professor Ilya Monosov, Ph.D. “People are constantly checking, checking, checking for news, and some of that checking is totally unhelpful. Our modern lifestyles could be resculpting the circuits in our brain that have evolved over millions of years to help us survive in an uncertain and ever-changing world.”
There’s no end to the bad news we can access if we choose to. And on a personal level, we might “doomscroll” our way into panic about own health! During the COVID-19 era, experts say people are even more likely than before to obsess about real or imagined ailments—and many are also self-diagnosing and listening to bad advice from unqualified sources.
In the old days, if we noticed a troubling rash, ache or digestive disturbance, we would most likely make an appointment with our doctor to have our symptoms checked out. Maybe we’d take our medical encyclopedia off the shelf and riffle through the common ailments described within.
But today, our diagnostic path can be quite different! Doctors wryly note that many patients head right to “Dr. Google.” And this can send them into a spiral of worry the medical pundits call “cyberchondria.” A few years ago, Microsoft even took note of the problem, noting that “the Web has the potential to increase the anxieties of people who have little or no medical training, especially when the Web is employed as a diagnostic procedure.”
How can we avoid stumbling into this spiral of worry, and avoid bad information and self-diagnosis that could keep us from getting the medical help we need? Here are four things to remember before you consult online health resources:
Above all, it’s important to remember that online healthcare information cannot take the place of advice from your own doctor. Fortunately, more and more healthcare providers and professional medical associations are realizing that their own web presence can help support patient education by offering sound consumer advice.
Two good places to start your search
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that is responsible for health-related research. It is divided into 27 institutes and centers, each of which has a website with quality consumer information covering a particular aspect of healthcare.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus site is another great place to begin your search. The site includes information on a wide variety of health topics and each topic includes a curated, vetted collection of approved links to web information, videos and tutorials from reputable institutions and organizations.