This is about misjudging symptoms of many sorts.
I think it is common with some illnesses to often think everything you feel is a symptom of the illness. I can see that with people who have heart disease, perhaps thinking that innocent heart burn is a symptom of their heart disease. In the case of bipolar disorder, many people with bipolar disorder having a burst of energy or even an especially good day wonder “Am I getting manic?” Perhaps sometimes it is an early warning sign, but other times it’s just within the normal range of experience.
How many of us have times when we catastrophize? One might think “My husband has been snapping at me a lot lately, is he falling out of love with me?” Well, it may very well NOT be the symptom that they think it is. The husband may instead just be suffering from frequent headaches that week and is generally irritable. Catastrophizing is a type of cognitive distortion.
Like catastrophizing, paranoia is another symptom that could be blown out of proportion. A person with schizophrenia can be paranoid as a symptom of psychosis. True, but a person with normal mental health (or even occasionally the person with schizophrenia) can simply be paranoid about less significant things, like thinking a person is talking negatively about them. Sometimes both types of people have these thoughts in the more “normal” range of innocent paranoia.
OK, let’s put illnesses aside for a moment. Symptoms do not strictly pertain to illnesses. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word symptom also means “something that indicates the existence of something else“ or simply “a slight indication”. Some people would argue that a summer that is especially brutally hot with severe droughts is a symptom or sign of global warming. Well, perhaps it could be (I do believe that there is global warning), but then again, perhaps it is just an anomaly that isn’t directly related to a much bigger problem. After all, there were times of severe drought in places before global warming was likely a problem.
Symptoms do sometimes get blown out of proportion or be false, just as evidence can be false. That’s why sometimes we need experts to really investigate their legitimacy. In the case of anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy tools can be used to investigate possible dysfunctional thinking. In more typical “normal” cases, critical thinking.
Symptoms are non-the-less important to investigate. As I mentioned, I leave the really big investigations of symptoms to the experts (doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc.). For self-investigating possible cognitive dysfunctional thinking, I use a cognitive behavioral therapy tool called a Dysfunctional Thought Record. For investigations of symptoms in general life, I use some of the critical thinking strategies described at on this website.
I have found that by investigating certain symptoms and getting answers, we can later more easily or quickly discount them or take them more seriously. Do I always? No. Am I always good at using the tools I mention above? No. Experts aren’t always on the mark either. But it is still good to investigate, and I do think using such tools does make a small difference.