Health Anxiety, Health Stress: What They Can Be Like

Whether short-term or chronic, health concerns can cause anxiety and stress. Signs and symptoms of health-related anxiety and stress can range from mildly annoying to completely disruptive and debilitating. The signs might be obvious, or they might hide as something else. Here's what health anxiety and stress may look like to help you recognize them and take charge. 

My Own Experience with Health Stress and Anxiety

Just over two years ago, I was diagnosed with several autoimmune and digestive disorders. Since then, I've been on an ongoing journey to figure out how to live well with them. I'm still working on it and learning through trial and error, and the process, while usually fine, can sometimes be stressful and exhausting. 

Acute, temporary health problems can be equally stressful and exhausting. Recently, I slipped and fell, and I ended up with a collapsed lung. Several days with a chest tube fixed the problem with no long-term consequences other than some limited activities for a couple of months. Even though the problem was short-lived, it was still a bit stressful. 

One of the positive aspects of these health situations is that they have helped me develop a new relationship with anxiety. In my case, chronic stress and anxiety were significant contributing factors to all of my medical diagnoses. Since then, I've become much better at managing stress and anxiety. Therefore, I don't get caught up in worries and fears about my health. Nonetheless, I do still find living with all of these conditions to be challenging and often stressful. My anxiety might not look like constant worry, but it does show up in different ways. 

What Health Anxiety and Health Stress Can Be Like: Signs and Symptoms of Health Anxiety and Stress

Before exploring the signs, it's worth noting why I've chosen to use both "health anxiety" and "health stress." While not identical, stress and anxiety are deeply interconnected. Stress can contribute to all types of anxiety and anxiety disorders, and living with anxiety can increase our sense of stress. While this is oversimplified, it can be helpful to think of "stress" as a situation that causes the fight-or-flight reaction in our body and mind and "anxiety" as thoughts and emotions that cause the fight-or-flight reaction in our body and mind. Additionally, stress is often time- and situation-limited, subsiding once the stressor is removed or addressed. Anxiety, on the other hand, can continue long after a trigger is gone. 

I've chosen to use both terms here because "health anxiety" often refers to worry or fear about health. It's possible, however, to have symptoms in addition to or instead of worry and fear. Knowing what the signs and symptoms of health anxiety and health stress are can help you recognize them in yourself. This awareness positions you to take positive action to deal with them. 

Health anxiety can indeed involve excessive worry about health concerns and/or fear of how they'll impact your life. Anxiety and stress can show up in other ways, though too. Other signs that health stress and anxiety are interfering in your everyday wellbeing include:

  • Frequently looking up information to the point where doing so is disruptive--pulling you away from tasks, distracting you, and/or keeping you up at night researching symptoms, treatments, and more
  • Having frequent, repetitive thoughts about your health
  • Having health concerns becoming a factor in almost everything you do
  • Hyperfocusing on your symptoms, noticing every new or uncomfortable sensation, and thinking about it (or looking up information about it)
  • Talking about your health frequently
  • A sense of being overwhelmed by your symptoms or the tasks of managing them
  • Self-doubt or even self-blame
  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion
  • A reduced sense of joy or happiness

While some of these aren't "classic" signs of anxiety disorders, they definitely can be elements of health anxiety or health stress.

For me, health concerns sometimes do dominate almost everything I'm doing because they cause discomfort, fatigue and interfere in what and how I eat. This can sometimes be overwhelming and exhausting, making things feel more burdensome than I'd like them to be. Also, because I'm not always able to be as active or efficient as I think I should be, I experience anxiety about my sense of self

Know that experiencing some or all of these when you're dealing with any type of health challenge is absolutely a natural response and is not a sign of weakness. Our health is integral to our daily lives, and when something is wrong, it is disruptive no matter how positive our overall outlook is. 

It's helpful to be aware of these signs and symptoms of health stress and anxiety, so they don't completely take over your life, dominating your thoughts, emotions, and actions. When you recognize what is interfering in your total wellbeing, you can then begin to make positive changes to feel better both physically and mentally. Next time, we'll explore how to gain the upper hand on health anxiety and stress. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, July 15). Health Anxiety, Health Stress: What They Can Be Like, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

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.

Leave a reply