The Nocebo Effect

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here, and the short version of why is that I’ve been having a difficult time as of late. Since the reason why is something I haven’t really talked about on here yet, I figured why not grab the gremlin by its horns and drag the little bastard out of the shadows and into the LCD glow of WordPress.

A lot of you will probably have heard of the Placebo Effect. For those who haven’t, it’s the phenomenon where, for example, a patient who is told they’re received a medication but is in fact given something inert will often feel better simply because they believe they’ve been medicated.

What fewer people have heard of is the Placebo Effect’s cruel and vicious alter-ego; the Nocebo Effect. While it may not be well known by name, it’s something many of us will probably have experienced in our lives. You’re browsing Facebook, watching television, or even looking out the window of a bus, when all of a sudden a post/ad/billboard raising awareness of a serious illness appears. It mentions the symptoms of the illness, and suddenly, out of nowhere, we start to feel those symptoms, and think we have that illness.

Just as with the Placebo Effect, our mind’s expectations skew our perceptions. Our anxiety and our hyper-focus on the thought of the symptoms we fear can actually create the illusion of those symptoms.

On its own, this is already about as fun as sitting your bare bum across both electrodes of a car battery, but coupled with conditions like OCD and autism it can be absolutely crippling. I myself have spent much of the past week struggling to convince myself I’m not dying of 5 or 6 different diseases, in constant fear for my life, and it really, really sucks.

One thing I’ve had to learn is that you never, EVER google your symptoms. It almost never helps, and the internet is loaded with enough nightmare fuel to keep the greasy turbines of the Nocebo Effect churning til the end of time.

Ultimately, this is something I think is best dealt with professionally, so that’s the route I personally have decided to take. Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, it’s all too often something that people try to deal with on their own, but I’ve learned the hard way that this is usually not the most effective approach. The way I see it, if we have an infection, we go get antibiotics, if we break a bone we get it put in a cast, if we get a deep cut, we get stitches; why should seeking medical help be any different when it’s our minds that need treatment?