How to remedy a hypochondriac wife’s negativity

Dear Troubleshooter:

I am a man in my 70s. My wife is a year older than me, and I am worried that she is an extreme hypochondriac.

When she feels a little ill, she gets worried, saying, “I may have cancer,” and starts developing insomnia, vertigo and stomach problems in turn. Our primary care doctor is bewildered by her, too, and wrote “too neurotic” in her medical records. An ENT doctor, who she visited to treat her vertigo, apparently told her in all seriousness, “You have to change the way you think.”

I had similar experiences with my mother as well. She was sickly, gloomy and selfish. There were times during my elementary and junior high school days when I did all the household chores. So, I wanted to marry a cheerful and healthy person, but …

My wife is normally a happy and friendly person, but when she feels unwell, she suddenly gets depressed. Whenever I get the chance I tell her to get things sorted out, but she refuses to listen to me. At the same time, she is so trusting of her friends that she naively takes whatever advice they give her. Please give me some advice from the perspective of a third party on how to change her negative way of thinking.

— T, Kanagawa Prefecture

Dear Mr. T:

I think your wife is trapped in a vicious cycle of worrying about illnesses, getting sick because of her concern and then getting worried again. If medical exams find nothing wrong, then it is important for her to let go of her worries. But it is difficult to stop feeling worried. I think it would be better for her to find something she can get into, something she can become interested in, or to do some kind of physical exercise.

I presume that you and your wife have no financial worries nor major problems regarding jobs and relatives. It seems to me that such a life, which is peaceful in a way, has produced a void in her mind, which makes her feel fear and worry.

Such a void in one’s mind needs to be filled with a sense of contentment, which comes about through experiences, such as learning or creative activities to enhance one’s potential, spending time in nature, caring for others and doing yoga and other physical exercise to control one’s autonomic nerves. Now you two have time to spend together in good health. I hope she won’t let this time go to waste but will instead work to achieve a sense of fulfilment.

— Junko Umihara, psychiatrist