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.