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8 Ways to Gain the Upper Hand on Health Stress and Anxiety

As explored in a previous post, health stress and health anxiety can be exhausting and burdensome. Our health is a vital component of our lives, and when something isn't right, whether it's a chronic condition or an acute, short-lived experience, it is natural to experience anxiety and stress because of it. Here's how to gain the upper hand on health stress and anxiety. 

Health Stress and Anxiety Are Natural--Give Yourself a Break

Concerns about health are logical and make sense. They're a natural extension of wanting to be well so you can thrive in your life. Being hard on yourself for having fears, worries, or other concerns is also natural because it's the brain's attempt (albeit a very misguided one) to motivate us to fix a problem. Just because they're natural, though, doesn't mean they're helpful or desirable. It's okay to want to improve health and reduce anxiety about it. It's also okay to shift how you think about and treat yourself. 

It can be helpful to gain a perspective on how the human brain works. It's hardwired to look for problems and other negativity and then hyperfocus on them in an effort to eliminate threats to our safety and wellbeing. While this has its place in our lives, it also ironically keeps us stuck in the very challenges we want to eliminate. 

While health stress and anxiety--and even being hard on yourself for them--are natural and driven by a healthy desire to be well and thrive, they can become a trap that keeps us stuck in anxiety. I know from my own experience how disruptive this can be, and I also know that it's possible to free ourselves from this trap.

The first way to journey away from health anxiety and toward overall wellbeing is by giving yourself a break. Allow yourself to experience the emotions and thoughts you're having and remind yourself that they're a natural component of any health (mental or physical) challenge. Once you stop struggling against your fears, worries, what-ifs, worst-case scenarios, self-criticisms, and other concerns, you free up mental space to focus on nurturing yourself and taking positive action to reduce health stress and health anxiety. Use the following seven additional ways to propel you forward.

7 More Ways to Reduce Health Stress and Health Anxiety

The starting point is to give yourself a break and allow yourself to feel the way you feel. Like the other seven tips, though, this isn't a one-and-done step. Anxiety plants deep roots in our mind and body and isn't easily removed. For best results, return to all of these steps gently and consistently, giving priority to the one (or several) you need most at any given moment. 

  1. Educate yourself. Learn about the health challenge you're facing by asking your doctor for more information or resources, visiting reputable websites, and reading articles and books. Take notes, and keep the information handy in a binder or folder for reference. The more you know about it, the better able you will be to take positive steps to deal with the symptoms and effects it has on your life. 
  2. Don't overlearn. Once you begin to encounter repeat information, stop searching for more. Continuing to search can easily lead down a path that is full of potholes of incorrect information, opinions, and alarmist beliefs. This can undermine your efforts to boost your health and lead to frustration, overwhelm, and more anxiety. Trust in yourself and the information you've already gathered, and consult your research binder or folder when you need to review something. 
  3. Reflect on and define your values. What is important for you in your life? What brings you meaning? How do you want to be in your life? The answers to these questions will help you redirect your anxious thoughts, shifting your attention from what you don't want to what you do. 
  4. Embrace what you can do. Frustration over limits imposed by health conditions is a big contributing factor to health stress and anxiety. Build on your strengths and abilities, and find new ways to use them to replace things you can no longer do. 
  5. Catch your anxious, repetitive thoughts about your health. One reason anxiety can be so all-consuming is that it constantly runs in the background. We're often only vaguely aware of our anxious thoughts that repeatedly play in our minds because we become accustomed to them. Tune in to your mental chatter to bring it fully to the surface. When you are aware, you are positioned to address them so you can move forward. 
  6. Shift your attention. Once you catch yourself feeling anxious and stressed about health concerns, you have power over them. You can now choose your response rather than reacting in indirect ways. Try noticing them and then asking yourself, "And what else?" What else is going on right now, at this moment, that you can focus on? This, of course, doesn't make your health symptoms and limitations disappear, but it expands your awareness to the rest of your life. 
  7. Treat yourself with respect and lovingkindness. This brings us full circle to the first tip. It's so crucial that it deserves a second mention in this new way. Acknowledge all that you are doing rather than being cruel to yourself for what you aren't doing. Living with health challenges, whether they're related to mental health or physical health or chronic or acute, is frustrating, but it doesn't define you in your entirety. You have so many wonderful things about you, and focusing on those will, in time, reduce your levels of stress and anxiety. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, July 22). 8 Ways to Gain the Upper Hand on Health Stress and Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, October 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2021/7/8-ways-to-gain-the-upper-hand-on-health-stress-and-anxiety



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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