A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research looked into the effects a video warning about negative side effects of electromagnetic fields would have on viewers. Over half of those who watched the video reported symptoms such as tingling and headaches when they were told they were being exposed to Wi-Fi signals, even though they actually weren’t. Those who watched the ‘scary’ video (as opposed to the neutral video) were found to be more likely to experience effects of ‘exposure’.
These findings confirm the power of nocebo – placebo’s dark cousin – when a person’s negative expectations surrounding a health issue leads to real symptoms.
Coauthor of the study, Michael Witthöft of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany said the following:
“If someone expects adverse health effects, it’s very likely they will focus more on the body and notice sensations that might be falsely attributed to electromagnetic fields.”
This kind of phenomenon is rather common says Dr Arthur Barsky, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He says the way people interpret the meaning of a situation will depend a lot on information they have access to at the time. For example, hearing about a link between mobile phones and brain cancer is likely to make that headache you would normally ignore seem more significant. By concentrating on this symptom too, you are likely to feel it as more intense.
For many people, worrying about their health stems from anxiety. If you have heard a story about a health issue in the media and are worried you are experiencing the same symptoms, try to think back to whether or not you’ve had these symptoms before and if so, did they go away on their own?
If you can’t resist looking up your symptoms online, try to stick to credible sources such as patient.co.uk. Try to set yourself a time limit so you don’t waste hours researching an illness. If you are still worried, seek help from your doctor.
To find out how hypnotherapy could help ease anxiety, please see our dedicated anxiety page.
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