This article outlines basic facts about Somatic Symptom Disorder and how to to manage Somatic Symptom Disorder to reduce physical and mental distress.
How to manage Somatic Symptom Disorder
What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association defines somatic symptom disorder as an individual experiencing preoccupation with physical symptoms that disrupts daily functioning. Symptoms can range from pain in a specific area of the body to dizziness, gastrointestinal issues and shortness of breath that do not have a medical cause.
It is common for an individual with somatic symptom disorder to seek frequent medical advice for their symptoms, and they are often not reassured when medical tests show no indications of serious illness. In some cases, an individual may have a diagnosed medical condition, but excessive preoccupation with symptoms intensifies what they experience and causes significant distress.
It is crucial to understand that people experiencing somatic symptoms are not faking it; they are genuinely experiencing pain or discomfort even if it cannot be explained medically. Many theories suggest that somatic symptoms emerge as a result of internalized psychological distress that manifests physically. Time and energy spent seeking medical opinions and extreme anxiety about symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life.
Treatment for somatic symptom disorder typically involves a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help an individual to develop new ways of thinking about symptoms and develop language for emotional expression. Medication may also be used in certain cases to treat underlying depression or anxiety. For more information about somatic symptom disorder diagnosis and treatment, visit Mind Diagnostics.
If you believe that you may be experiencing somatic symptoms and excessive worry about your health that is impairing your daily functioning, here are some strategies to manage Somatic Symptom Disorder that may be helpful for dealing with your physical and mental discomfort:
5 strategies for managing somatic symptoms
1. Set boundaries around seeking medical advice. Distressing physical symptoms often feel urgent, like there is an immediate need to seek medical intervention to assure that it is not indicative of a life-threatening condition.
However, you may find that even after receiving normal results from medical testing that it does not stop your mind from ruminating on health concerns, believing that maybe the doctors missed something or there is another specialist who will be able to determine what’s going on.
Seeking out reassurance only lays the groundwork to continue seeking more reassurance, and it is never enough. Therefore, it is important to work with a trusted health care professional and/or therapist on establishing limits around medical examinations and visits with specialists.
This is an initial step towards breaking the cycle of preoccupation with symptoms and moving towards accepting current feelings of discomfort and focusing on techniques that will enhance your quality of life.
2. Develop relaxation techniques. There are numerous relaxation techniques that may be helpful in coping with somatic symptoms. You may find it beneficial to look into deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization/mindfulness. It may take trying different strategies to determine what works best for you. Incorporating just 10-20 minutes of mindfulness and relaxation into your day can be extremely beneficial, as it stimulates the parasympathetic response in the body and aids in decreasing stress and racing thoughts.
3. Move your body in a way that feels comfortable. While exercise may be the last thing you want to do while experiencing physical pain or discomfort, it can be very helpful for both boosting your mood and improving physical function. You may find that light exercise such as yoga or walking provides an avenue for you to drop into your body and the present moment, focusing on your breathing or your surroundings instead of distressing thoughts.
4. Stay connected and involved. It can be tempting to stay home and avoid social engagements out of fear that symptoms will worsen or become too difficult to manage. However, it is extremely important to remain engaged with your relationships, organizations, and hobbies, as this gives you other avenues to focus your energy other than your physical discomfort.
Maintaining a strong support system is a central aspect of mental health. Spending time with others and pursuing your interests can help to break you out of the cycle of obsessive thoughts, which only serves to intensify anxiety around your health.
5. Be gentle with yourself. Remember that with any mental health challenge, learning to live with your symptoms is a process. There are likely going to be days that are better than others. Sometimes it may feel like you are backsliding into obsessive thought patterns and behaviors connected to your physical sensations.
It is helpful to remember to take it one day at a time, one hour at a time. You may not find a solution to your physical symptoms, but it is possible to engage in strategies that decrease your distress and allow you to live meaningfully with somatic symptom disorder.
Genevieve Dumas is a design, fashion, food and style writer who has worked on major magazines and mastheads in the United States and Europe.