Category Archives: Anxiety

Medical Problems & Anxiety

At some point in life, most individuals will face a personal medical crisis or must live with a chronic illness. A common concern I see in my practice is an increase in anxiety after a medical event or diagnosis of a chronic illness. Here are a few things to know about medical problems and anxiety:

  • Anxiety about medical concerns is common: Anxiety around health issues is very common. It is normal to feel worried and concerned about your health if you have a medical issue. And while it is normal to have anxiety about your health when faced with true medical problems, it is important that you are able to manage and reduce this anxiety. If your anxiety becomes out of control, this can make your medical problems worse.
  • Monitoring symptoms may increase anxiety: Once someone knows they have a medical issue, they may begin to monitor their physical symptoms more. And while it may be important to monitor symptoms for some medical conditions (like diabetes or asthma for instance), the heightened attention to physical symptoms may increase your anxiety. You may feel like you are always waiting for something bad to happen or that you always have to be on guard to take action if something does happen.
  • Experiencing a physical symptom may trigger anxiety: You may be having a physical symptom related to your medical condition, or you may be having an anxiety symptom. Physical symptoms of anxiety include a racing heart, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, shaking, feeling overheated, sweating, tingling in your arms or legs, an upset stomach, headaches, shortness of breathe, etc. The symptoms of anxiety may be very similar to symptoms of your medical condition or problem. Not knowing if a symptom is anxiety or your medical issue may cause you to feel more anxious. More anxiety means an increase in these symptoms. This pattern can set off a vicious cycle where the physical symptoms of your condition the physical symptoms of your anxiety magnify each other.
  • Anxiety can impact your health: If you’re already dealing with a difficult medical problem or issue, you need to reduce your anxiety as much as possible. Long-term anxiety and stress can have a negative impact on your overall health, including weakening your immune system.

If you are experiencing difficulty managing your anxiety around your medical issues, it may be helpful to seek out counseling. Through therapy you will learn more effective techniques for managing your anxiety and dealing with the psychological aspects of your medical condition.

7 Simple Techniques for Coping with Anxiety

  1. Acknowledge the Anxiety. Ignoring your anxiety might actually make you more anxious, especially if your physical symptoms increase. When you notice your anxiety, simply note the experience. Say something like “I am having some anxiety,” or “I’m feeling worried & am experiencing some dizziness.” These types of statements will help you tune into your physical & emotional experience of the anxiety and will prevent distorted thinking from making the anxiety worse (like saying “If I don’t get out of here I’m going to have a heart attack!”).
  2. Tell Yourself “This Will Pass.” Because anxiety can feel distressing, people sometimes panic about the physical experience of anxiety. This panic can make anxiety symptoms worse. Learn to tell yourself that your anxiety will pass, and its intensity often changes. All emotional experiences have a beginning and an end. Remind yourself of a time when you had anxiety before and that the anxiety stopped.
  3. Stay Away From Sugar & Caffeine. The effects of foods high in sugar and those with caffeine can mimic anxiety symptoms. If you’re already anxious, reaching for a cup or coffee or sugar snack will only magnify your symptoms! In a moment when experiencing anxiety never consume a sugary or caffeine laden food or beverage. If anxiety is a chronic problem for you, consider reducing your sugar and caffeine intake overall.
  4. Bring Yourself Back to the Moment. Anxiety can often cause you to wander down the scary “what-if” road. For instance, “What if I mess up my presentation & loose my job…What if I have a heart attack…What if he/she leaves me because she thinks I’m crazy!” Reign in these exaggerated frightening hypothetical thoughts about the future by staying present. Staying in the moment will also help you to tune into what is happening in your body when experiencing anxiety.
  5. Imagine a Calm, Safe Place. The calm safe place can be imaginary or somewhere real. If you happen to be outside when you’re experiencing anxiety tune into calming stimuli around you. For instance pay attention to the trees, their color, their smell, the animals in the trees, sound of birds chirping, etc. Carry a photo of a calming place with you in your wallet or phone for reference. Imaging a calm safe place will redirect your attention from your anxiety to a relaxing stimuli. Download relaxing music or sounds to your phone (there are many apps for phones are designed to play relaxing sounds).
  6. Focus on Your Breath. You may notice that when you’re anxious your breath changes. Breath rate usually becomes quicker and more shallow, sometimes causing hyperventilation. When anxious try taking slow, deep belly breaths to tap into your body’s natural ability soothe an activated nervous system.
  7. Get Moving. Exercising when feeling anxious can help to discharge extra adrenaline and nervous energy. If you’re in a situation where you are unable to exercise (like at work for instance) even taking a five-minute walk or stretching could be helpful. Exercising on a regular basis is also an excellent way to manage and prevent anxiety. Many people with chronic anxiety notice a significant decrease in their symptoms when they are able to exercise on a regular basis.