Everyone knows about “Doctor Google”. Worst. Doctor. EVER.
Anxious people tend to run directly to Google so they can verify that anxiety symptoms are not dangerous and that scary thoughts will not come true. Invariably, anxious people will also bemoan the choice to ask Doctor Google because no good ever comes from it.
Why does asking Google seem like such a good idea … then such a bad idea after the fact?
Google is driven not by accuracy or veracity, but by popularity. The Google algorithm has certainly gotten smarter over the years, but it still rewards sites that are visited most often. That means that when you search for something on Google, the results you see will generally reflect the sites that are most visited in response to the search term you enter. Google will generally show you what it thinks makes most sense because lots of other people have clicked on those links.
When it comes to health issues - including mental health issues - people will most often use Google when trying to find safety from the worst case scenario. This means they will click on the worst case scenarios to see if they apply for them. This means that Google thinks that the worst case scenarios are the best links to show people since they are the most clicked on. So when you ask Google if your racing heart might kill you, you are going to get a bunch of links that paint a really scary picture, leading you to conclude that you are doomed.
The natural bias toward the negative means that Google thinks it’s giving you the best results, but it’s just giving you the most popular, and also the scariest results. Add your anxious mind and it’s compromised reasoning and critical thinking skills, and you can see why Google goes from great idea to terrible idea in short order.
What can we do about this? Part of recovery is learning to stop frantically seeking reassurance all the time, so that is certainly part of the solution. But being educated and well-informed about the nature of disordered anxiety and recovery is a good thing, so not all searching and researching is a bad thing!
Start by NOT starting with Google, or any other major search engine. They’re great when you want to find out who played the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island but they are TERRIBLE mental health tools. Instead, if you’re going to do research, start with some more focused sites that are driven by veracity and accuracy in the space. Here are a few:
International OCD Foundation
Anxiety And Depression Association of America
Why go direct to sites like this? Because these sites are going to give you a more accurate view into the nature of anxiety disorders and recovery. They are not about click bait or sensationalism. They tend to be slanted toward education about the nuts and bolts of anxiety and treatment. Not everything you read on these sites will make you feel good, but you are far less likely to be dragged into the trap of catastrophic thinking if you make use of well written and focused sites like these.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of good mental health websites, but its a start. I’ll do my best to pass on good resources when I have them for you. For now, just remember that Googling to feel safe isn’t a good plan, but if you must search, skip the usual visit to Doctor Google. She’ll always leave you wishing you hadn’t asked.
By the way, Alan Hale, Jr. played the Skipper. And I didn’t have to ask Google to know that.
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