Our mental and physical health go hand in hand, and recognizing the mind-body relationship can be helpful to understand why we feel the way we feel and think the way we think. However, if your thoughts are consumed by how you physically feel, you may be living with a mental illness called somatic symptom disorder.
What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?
Somatic Symptom Disorder is a complex mental health condition in which an individual is preoccupied with their physical health and pain symptoms. This preoccupation not in proportion to the symptoms and can result in significant distress that disrupts a person’s ability to function.
People living with somatic symptom disorder often believe they have a medical condition they may not actually have, and they may not trust the diagnosis offered to them by their doctor. The stress and worry among people with somatic symptom disorder can be debilitating and worsen over time. Somatic symptom disorder occurs in about 5 to 7 percent of the adult population and is more common in women than in men.
What Are Symptoms of Somatic Symptom Disorder?
The exact cause of somatic symptom disorder is not known, but researchers believe psychological, social, and cultural factors can impact somatic symptoms. Symptoms for this condition vary from individual to individual but generally include at least one of the following:
• Experience pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, or weakness unrelated to any identifiable medical cause.
• Worry constantly about potential illness and view normal physical sensations as a sign of severe physical illness.
• Fear that symptoms are threatening, harmful, or serious even without evidence.
• Fear that physical activity may cause damage to their body.
• Seek care from multiple doctors simultaneously but not feel reassured by treatment or diagnosis received.
• Be unresponsive to treatment or particularly sensitive to the treatment’s adverse effects.
• Experience anxiety and depression and may abuse alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, people living with somatic symptom disorder “may continue to be fearful and worried even when they are shown evidence that they do not have a serious condition.”
Is Somatic Symptom Disorder The Same As Being A Hypochondriac?
In short, no. Rather than complain of persistent symptoms, people with Illness Anxiety Disorder or Hypochondriasis are anxious about their health, but their condition is marked by expressing fears about becoming sick. Their focus is more on contracting an illness and avoiding situations that could make them sick.
How is Somatic Symptom Disorder Treated?
Living with somatic symptom disorder may feel overwhelming, but patients can learn to cope with their symptoms with a proper diagnosis and treatment. Data shows that psychological therapy and medication can be effective in managing somatic symptom disorder, although treatment can vary from person to person and should be tailored to the individual.
You can also take steps on your own to complement professional treatment. The Mayo Clinic notes that practicing stress management techniques including meditation, intentional breathing, and muscle relaxation, regular physical exercise, and abstaining from drugs and alcohol are all helpful habits to incorporate into daily life.
Reach Out For Help
Somatic Symptom Disorder can be challenging to diagnose, which can be frustrating for people living with the disorder and their families. If you or a loved one are focused on your physical pain but don’t have a reasonable explanation as to the cause, you might be experiencing Somatic Symptom Disorder. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, reach out to your doctor or a licensed therapist to learn more about the condition and to schedule a medical evaluation.
Mental health is a critical component of wellness, and with a medical partner you can trust –and a treatment plan created with you in mind – you can be back to feeling yourself again.