Have you ever spent hours on Google searching the symptoms of an imaginary illness? Have you just wasted your whole weekend googling and trying to figure out whether you are a bad person? Did you stay up until long past midnight last night because you had to do an online research about the first signs of paranoid schizophrenia?
Well, if you have similar experiences, you may be suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Googling Disorder – now, that’s a completely made up term and I hope none of my readers will find offensive If I use it. I have been suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for most of my life and I think that the expression “Obsessive Compulsive Googling Disorder” perfectly describes one of my creepiest OCD symptoms: the excessive reassurance seeking.
Excessive reassurance seeking is a compulsive act done in hopes of reducing anxiety associated with an obsession. We can seek reassurance in various different ways such as talking to a friend or reading about the topic we are worried about. Honestly, I think it would be next to impossible to give you a full list of reassurance seeking habits (not even trying to) that OCD sufferers can develop but I guess you will not be surprised if I tell you that Googling is one of them. Google is one of the best places for finding information and that’s exactly why it can often become dangerous – but before talking too much about Google itself, let’s just see why people with OCD need to seek reassurance.
Why Do People With OCD Need To Seek Reassurance?
One of the main features of OCD is doubt. You are never sure if you have locked the door – and that’s why you just have to go back and check it. You think you love your boyfriend, but what if you do not? You most probably do not want to commit suicide, but what if you lose control and you end up doing it?
Living with OCD feels like having two brains. There’s a rational part of you that perfectly knows that your thoughts are not true but then, there’s the other part which keeps questioning even the most fundamental things in your life. So, at the end of the day your whole life is haunted by a terrible feeling of uncertainty. And yeah, I know you may say that nobody likes uncertainty and I agree with that. However, when you have OCD, it is more than just not liking it – you will have this constant feeling of doubt even if there’s no particular reason for you to have it and you often get the feeling that your whole life is going out of control and you just have to do something about it. And this is why you need to start seeking reassurance – and let’s be honest, what is the quickest way of doing it?
Of course, it’s Google.
Obsessive Compulsive Googling
It would be difficult to imagine a world without Google, would it not? Google makes our lives easier by giving us answers to every possible question. But unfortunately, it is not always our friend – and if you have OCD, Google can often be downright dangerous.
So what does it feel like when you’re getting lost in the labyrinth of Google searching for salvation that you will never find? Let’s take a look at a few personal stories to find out (The stories are real, but I wanted to keep them anonymous so I have changed a couple of details, such as the names.)
Google Search #1 – Do I Have HIV?
Jamie has been worried about catching HIV. He spends a few hours a day Googling the symptoms of HIV infection and the possible routes of transmission.
“A few months ago, I had sex with a guy (I really do not want to go into more details), we barely knew each other and I haven’t met him ever since. I am usually not into sex dates so I guess that’s why I started getting worried about this particular encounter. Catching HIV has always been one of my biggest fears and after meeting this guy, this fear got even worse. So I just really had to do something about it and the first thing that came into my mind was Google – I just wanted to make sure that I couldn’t possibly get infected with the virus and I started spending hours trying to find out how likely it is to catch it. Then, I also had to look for more information about the symptoms. And I can tell you that this whole Googling habit has gone out of control. Most of the results on Google are pretty reassuring but none of them can guarantee that I am not HIV positive. “
Google Search #2 – Will There Be A War?
Angela is scared of World War 3. She would never go anywhere without her smartphone because she just needs to check the news every few hours.
” I think most of us are afraid of war but in my case I really feel this whole thing went out of control. I feel a war could break out at any moment and I always need to know what is going on in the world. I know this may sound silly but I do not only do this because I just want to make sure that I do not miss anything or because I want to seek reassurance but I also have a kind of superstitious belief: I believe that if I do not check the latest news or articles about the current political situation, something terrible will happen. Lately, I haven’t been sleeping enough – I stay up late every night Googling. I know what I am doing is not healthy but I just cannot stop. Not sure if I will ever be able to.”
Google Search #3 – Am I Too Lucky?
Rachel has an amazing career – together with a nice salary. And she constantly feels guilty for that. She thinks she doesn’t deserve it.
“I feel guilty for having a better life than most of the people I know. I think I do not deserve it and I am afraid that one day I will lose everything that I have. One thing that usually makes me calmer is comparing my financial situation to other people’s finances. I spend a few hours a day googling what the average salary in my region is and how much money others earn. I always hope to find answers that reassure me that I do not earn significantly more than other people and when I manage to prove myself, that I am not way too lucky, I will feel better. On the other hand, when I find posts from people who are living in worse conditions, I will usually feel guilty and afraid that on day, God may punish me for not being graceful enough for all the things that I have in life. This whole thing is a never ending cycle.”
Google Search #4 – Do I Have Melanoma?
“Now, this is my personal story. During my high school years, I used to be addicted to tanning. So, I would go to our local tanning salon a few times a week. At that time, I wasn’t particularly worried about the consequences – I just wanted to be as tanned as possible. But then a few years ago, I came across an article about the dangers of indoor tanning and for me, that meant the beginning of a new obsession. I would spend a few hours a day googling the symptoms of melanoma and I would read every single article that I could find about the subject: statistics, fatality rates, prevalence, symptoms, causes, risk factors – everything you can imagine. I couldn’t even get enough sleep because I would always prefer staying up and doing my “melanoma research”. How did the whole thing end? I realized that my obsessive googling was really going out of control and I decided to see a dermatologist and get my suspicious moles removed.”
How To Stop Compulsive Googling?
It is not an easy thing to stop Googling everything – especially if you’ve been doing it for years. Google and other search engines are all over the places, you may need to use them to complete your job or find the nearest supermarket. So I do not think any of us could exclude it from our lives but we could definitely change the way we are using it.
1. No Amount Of Reassurance Is Enough
Let’s say you spend a few hours on Google trying to find out whether you’re a bad person for having aggressive thoughts. Do you really think hours of research will convince you that you’re not? Of course, it won’t. The main issue with reassurance seeking is that sometimes no amount of reassurance is enough – which means that spending entire days googling your biggest fears and finding the most reassuring answers will not be enough for you to get rid of your anxiety and to convince yourself that everything is alright. And I think realizing this is one of the first steps that you have to take in order to overcome your “Googling obsession”.
2. The Internet Is A Scary Place
I think I do not say anything new by telling you that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. People can write whatever they want to and there’s a lot of misleading, incorrect content out there. So if you really think there’s something you should be worried about, the best thing you can do is seeking professional help (just make sure it will not lead to a new reassurance seeking habit).
3. Go For A Walk / Go Out With Your Friends
When you feel that you just cannot stop Googling, another thing that will help is going out for a walk – without your phone if possible. Or going out with your friends – it’s not a nice thing to check your phone while you’re talking to them so hopefully that will help you spend a few hours without doing your “online research”.
4. Set Yourself A Time Limit
I will be honest with you – getting rid of compulsions is not an easy thing so I do not think it’s realistic to expect that somebody who has spent a few hours a day on Google for the last couple of years, will be able to change their habits immediately. But as a first step, you can set yourself a time limit – let’s say you can only spend 20 minutes a day on Google instead of the usual one hour (just as an example).
Google Is Amazing, But We Should Use It The Right Way
I have always loved Google: it helped me prepare for my exams, learn languages and find a lot of amazing things. But it is just like any other things in life – you should never overuse it and you should use it in the right way.
- The Face Of The Devil – Personifying Your OCD
- OCD & Humor – Is Life A Tragedy Or A Comedy?
- When Your Brain Is Drained – OCD & Mental Exhaustion
- OCD: Living A Hell Of Uncertainty
- OCD: Living A Lie
As you know, there is one thing that I enjoy more than sharing my story: reading yours. So, please share your personal experiences in the comment section.