Strategies for Conquering Illness Obsession to Help you Stop Worrying About Your Health [Interview][Transcript]

Dr. George Zgourides How to Quit Obsessing About Symptoms and Feel BetterGuest: Dr. George Zgourides
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: George D. Zgourides, M.D., Psy.D., is a board-certified family physician and licensed clinical psychologist. His books include DON’T LET THEM PSYCH YOU OUT!, STOP FEELING TIRED! and STOP WORRYING ABOUT YOUR HEALTH! Dr. Zgourides counsels listeners to recapture their zest for life. Dr. Z’s unique background has led him to reject the medical approach of “a pill for every ill,”focusing instead on lifestyle medicine and the power of the mind to heal the body and build energy. Recommending the best evidence-based approaches to wellness, Dr. Z inspires listeners to bring themselves into balance and experience life as it is meant to be—with mindfulness, vigor, and energy.

Segment overview: Dr. George D. Zgourides, M.D., Psy.D., talks about such topics as health anxiety and cyberchondria which are featured in his book, STOP WORRYING ABOUT YOUR HEALTH! How to Quit Obsessing About Symptoms and Feel Better Now (Second Edition).

Transcription

Health Professional Radio

Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. Thank you so much for being with us here today, I’m your host Neal Howard. Everyone is complaining about being tired, whether they’re people complaining about stressed – we get up in the morning, we do things. There is energy that’s exerted with each in every action. But what about that healthy balance of being able to do what you want to do, when you want to do and not become exhausted in the process? Our guest in studio today is Dr. George Zgourides, MD and he’s uniquely credentialed as both a board certified family Physician certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and a Clinical Psychologist. Now Dr. Zgourides got many, many years of experience and education in primary care and sexual medicine as well. He is an author and has written extensively on optimizing health through integrative medicine and psychology with an emphasis on evidence on base lifestyle solutions. Now his books include “Don’t let them Psych You out!,” “Stop Feeling Tired” and “Stop worrying about your Health.” How are you doing today Dr. Zgourides?

Dr. George Zgourides: Neal, I am doing just great. And I am honored to be on the show with you today. Thank you so much for having me.

N: And thank you for coming, that’s what we do here. We love to talk to people and get new and innovative ideas especially when it comes to health and wellness.

Z: Excellent.

N: Now in addition to being a Clinical Psychologist and Family Medicine Practitioner, you’re also an author of three books. What exactly is your specialty? I know family medicine but you run the gamut it seems – sexual medicine, primary care, educations, you’re an author – exactly who is Dr. George Zgourides?

Z That’s a great question and I’m asked that often and I also believe in a good deal of self-reflection at times too answering that question for myself. But I am ultimately a family doctor but my background prior to going to medical school was as a clinical psychologist. So I function in an area that’s emerging known as “lifestyle medicine” and it’s a great area that combines traditional medical with some of the more health oriented medical stuff as well as psychology and a variety of other disciplines. And the sexual medicine and all that all just kind of fits nicely into lifestyle medicine which basically involves my working with patients to help them change lifestyle habit in order to increase their health and happiness versus sort of a traditional pathology based medical model of … “Here’s the disease, take a pill. Here’s a disease, cut it out.” We call that “a pill for every ill” approach and “when in doubt, cut it out” approach. So those are very important approaches at times absolutely and I certainly don’t hesitate to use traditional allopathic medicine when we did. But there’s a lot of what people also want they can dealt with thru changes in lifestyle, as well as changes in their thought, emotions and behaviors.

N: Well it seems that that is the crux of the matter when it comes to the techniques that you describe and medications, the pill for every ill as it were. It seems that it’s much harder to change your lifestyle, change habits such as eating, exercising, drinking more water and less coffee as opposed to taking a pill that will regulate these things for you and you go on about your business. How do you get around the well for lack of a better term the laziness?

Z: Well it’s difficult and I’m not going to tell you that this is really easy no problem and all that -a lot of patients, lot of people wrestle with exactly what you’re saying. And I find it challenging too, I live in the same society here in America that we all do. And we’re constantly bombarded with advertisements and pharmaceutical marketing materials that prompt us to take a pill. You’ve got this problem, this pill’s goanna solve all your problem (laugh). So yeah, you’ll have happy wonderfully active beautiful people in these commercials, so just to take that pill (laugh). You’ll look like that, feel like them and so forth but we all know that’s not true. I mean there is a lot of good that pills do.

N: Do we really know that that’s not true? I mean as you say we’re bombarded with ‘this pill, that medication this cream…’ Without a malady to go along with this pill or potion, it seems we’re almost forced to obsess about our health making us well even more unhealthy when you think about it. You’re an author, your book ‘Stop Worrying about Your Health,’ ‘How to Quite Obsessing about Symptoms and Feel Better’ – how do you suggest that we approach this psychological warfare about our health?

Z: And it does feel like psychological warfare to many, many people. And it’s an interesting side effect I think of all of the marketing instead of we were just mentioning, like what I said to be too simplistic about all of this because I know it’s very complicated for people in their lives. But one side of it is take the pill, everything will be great. But the other side is well yeah but there’s obviously some problems if people have to take this pill so what’s going on and maybe I should be worried about that? And so what we end up having, we end up observing and quite a few people as something called what I refer to as health anxiety. Now a lot of folks will refer to this as “hypochondria” and…

N: They’re not the same. Are hypochondriacs anxious about their health? Is it that part of it?

Z: Yeah it is, it can be. Hypochondriasis is an actual official disorder and I’m not real keen about throwing labels at people.

N: Okay.

Z: But what I do find, yeah there are absolutely people are suffering from hypochondriasis, I mean clinical full blown hypochondriasis, hypochondria.

N: Uh huh.

Z: But there are a lot of other people that I encounter that are just kind of excessively worried about their health but they don’t really have a mental diagnosis or something that’s generating that. And those are the people I particularly have been interested in, which is ultimately what led me to write the book “Stop Worrying About Your Health.” I had a lot of patients coming in and they’re just sort of excessively worried about it, but it doesn’t really interfere with their lives. They don’t lose their marriages and don’t lose their job over it. But they’re just kind distressed a lot about health and what if something’s wrong, ‘What if I have cancer and I don’t know it?’ ‘I want this test and that test and I better take this and take that and load up on supplements and do all kinds of things.’ And so I found that over the years there is a certain subset of my patients and clients that have this so I became interested in that element of the clinical experience and I wrote that book.

N: Now as we wrap up this segment, how much well I’m gonna date myself here. I can remember when if you have a description of a symptom you had to leave your house go maybe buy a magazine or gather around the table and watch the news on one of those 3 networks that we had. The opportunity to obsess and be bombarded with symptoms and cures for these symptoms, some of which we were bound to make up in our minds. With the internet playing a part in everyone’s life now, the obsession is instantaneous now.

Z: Right. And the internet is wonderful as it is, and has helped countless people make educated decisions about their health and medical treatments. It’s also can be disastrous for people who worry too much. And so we’ll often find these folks that excessively worried about their health and researching illnesses, and so that’s just kind of I think one of the side effects of having the internet. It’s both good and bad in terms of people with health anxiety. We kind of joking, we refer to this as “doctor google” and I also get patients who have consulted dr. google before they come in. And a lot of times, it very much encourage people to get information, bring it to me, we look at it. Because I see myself often is like a coach in terms of their health, not a paternalistic doctor type. And so I work with my people to come to an agreement with the treatment plans and the like. But I encourage people to bring information but what can happen is people can go overboard with it and start reading too much, worrying too much. And see, at least as a physician and then the safer healthcare practitioners with training experience, we have a context for interpreting that kind of information whereas often the average person doesn’t necessarily have that context and still they’ll read something on the internet and self-diagnose and that can be a real problem especially if they decide not to go see a physician or nurse or someone when they should. And that’s one of the things that I try to address that…

(Crosstalk)

N: It’s a double edged sword. The obsession with your health making you unhealthy and then having the anxiety over worrying about your health – it’s like this vicious cycle. Now as the author of “Stop Worrying About Your Health: How to Quite Obsessing About Symptoms and Feel Better Now” in its 2nd edition wrapping up, how can we actually stop worrying about diseases and germs and our health? Stop ourselves and help someone else stop as a result of reading your book. And also maybe visiting your website livingwholelivingwell.com

Z: I think it’s complicated. There is plenty to it in terms of stopping these kinds of health anxiety, thoughts and behaviors. But I’d say probably one of the most important things to do is stop, just limit the browsing behavior and the request for unnecessary medical tests and doctor appointments. And be careful about reading product inserts and catastrophizing about them. But I’d say probably essential to the way I approach it with folks is to work on changing the thinking about it. And a real drill is that while it’s possible that I have blah, blah, blah, is not very probable. And trying to kind of get into a bit of a different mindset, to just having a good honest visit with the health care practitioner. But I think probably the main thing people will find helpful is to limit searching on medical websites and coming up with all kinds of …. genetic disorders and things that they think they have, and just people end up losing a lot of sleep for nothing.

N: Absolutely, absolutely for nothing. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. We’ve been in studio today talking with Dr. George Zgourides, both a certified family physician and a clinical psychologist. He’s a strong proponent of modifying lifestyle to achieve overall wellness, including eating nutritiously, staying physically active, and managing stress. And we’ve been here talking about some of the ways that we can stop obsessing and worrying about our health and actually begin to feel better without the use of medications in excess or even at all. It’s been great having you here with us today Dr. Zgourides.

Z: Thank you so much Neal. It’s an absolute pleasure and honor.

N: Thank you. Transcript and audio of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au and also at hpr.fm and you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.