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It is difficult to describe anxiety concretely because it has so many different potential causes and degrees of intensity. Basically, with anxiety, you feel that the worst will happen, even though no one has told you that is the case, and you feel anxious about it. (For symptoms of anxiety, click here.)

While there are events in the life of a person with a serious health condition that frequently trigger anxiety, anxiety can show up without warning and at any time. The events that trigger anxiety, and the duration of anxiety, vary from person to person and event to event. 

Anxiety can be persistent or severe.

The duration of the feeling of anxiety varies from person to person, and from time to time. The length of time can be as short as a few minutes, or as long as hours, days and even weeks.

Unmanageable anxiety, and the feelings of fear that come with it, can overpower logic - sometimes resulting in unwise decisions.

There are self help techniques to consider using to lessen anxiety. They are described in Techniques to Reduce or Eliminate Anxiety.

If self help techniques aren't enough, treatment is available from mental health professionals, spiritual advisors and medication. A fairly new treatment which has shown to be effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Contact your health care provider if any of the following occur:

  • You have thoughts of suicide
  • You have difficulty breathing
  • You cannot eat or sleep for two or more days
  • Nothing seems to help


  • Avoid self medicating with alcohol or other substances. Alcohol is a depressant. St. John's Wort, a supplement that some people use for depression, has interactions with many prescription medications. Speak with your doctor before taking St. John's Wort or any other drug or supplement.
  • If anxiet y progresses to having panic attacks, click here

Symptoms Of Anxiety

Anxiety can show up in a variety of ways. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Feeling:
    • Anxious
    • Afraid
    • Depressed
    • Hypersensitive
    • Loss of control
    • Mild angst to intense dread
    • Nervous
    • Overwhelmed
    • Panic
  • Being irritable
  • A constant muscle tension in your body
  • Racing thoughts
  • Uncontrolled worry
  • Trembling or shaking

Anxiety can also show up as racing pulse (heart), dry mouth, excess sweating, sweaty palms or shortness of breath.

Anxiety Triggers

Triggers for anxiety vary. Triggers for people with a history of a serious health condition include the following:

  • An upcoming doctor's appointment or test.
  • Waiting for test results.
  • Getting ready for a scan (there is even a new term for this type of anxiety used on the internet: "scanxiety").
  • Entering or being in a hospital, assisted living facility, hospital and/or hospice.
  • An anniversary date.
  • A new body ache.
  • Thoughts of disability or death.
  • Death of a celebrity with your specific condition or any death at all.

To Learn More

Techniques To Relieve Or Eliminate Anxiety

Following are techniques which have helped other people reduce anxiety:

  • Self help, such as:
    • Hypnosis (including self hypnosis)
    • Yoga.
    • Meditation.
    • Exercise - preferably at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise doesn't have to be at the gym or world class. Walking is a form of exercise.
    • Distracting yourself when you start feeling anxious. For example:
      • Read a book or listen to a book on tape while waiting for a doctor's appointment. 
      • Watch a video during a treatment for which you are awake.
      • Garden or anything else that relaxes you.
    • A conscious effort to adopt a different attitude. For example:
      • By working on keeping a positive attitude (such as focusing on the steps you are taking to deal with the disease, and/or appreciating each moment.)  To learn how to keep a positive attitude, click here.
      • By reframing the illness or crisis as a challenge.
    • Be conscious of your thoughts and change the subject. 
      • For example, recognize that anxiety is based on fear. Fear is a thought. Thoughts can go as quickly as they come if we see them for what they are, and then change the subject. To put this in practical terms: when fear appears, recognize that it is a thought, then call the thought "fear." Then let the thought go and consciously move on to a more positive thought. 
      • Some people do this by thinking of a big stop sign when they recognize a fear thought and actually saying "Stop!" loudly and firmly.Then they change to a more positive thought. Of course this is easier to say than to do. However, with practice and time, it does get easier.
    • Write or keep a  journal. The form doesn't matter. The key is to get your emotions out of your system and onto paper.
    • Seek information. Information leads to knowledge which replaces vague understandings or myths. For example, learn what to expect with respect to your health condition, tests, treatments, drugs and side effects. 
      • To learn how to do medical research, click here.
      • To learn how to do medical research on the internet, click here.
      • For information about professionals who will research for you, click here
    • Recognize that anxiety can strike at any time and prepare for it by knowing what to do if it strikes.
    • Deep breathing.
    • Listen to calming music. For instance, the song Weightless was written to help with anxiety.
  • Avoid sugar and white flour. They have both been linked to an increase in brain chemicals that cause anxiety.
  • Get some sun daily if possible. People who suffer from anxiety have been found to feel more relaxed after spending between 20 and 40 minutes outdoors when the sun is shining. Use of sunscreen is advisable.
  • Get support. For example:
    • Use a supportive Team of family and friends.
    • Consider joining a support group. For information about support groups, including the value of support groups, how to find one and how to start your own, click here.)
  • Acupuncture to help alleviate symptoms.
  • The herb: Kava (also known as Kava Kava.) The herb is illegal in a few states apparently because people were getting adverse reactions when combining Kava with alcohol and/or prescription medications. It was also made illegal in Europe but as of 2014, it is again legal. As with other remedies, speak with your doctor before taking.
  • Anything else that helps you.
  • If severe anxiety makes day-to-day functioning difficult:
    • Speak with your doctor. Medication such as anti-anxiety drugs are available. Anti-anxiety drugs are often referred to as "tranquilizers" because they leave you feeling calm and relaxed.  Antidepressants are also used.

NOTE: It helps to have a doctor with whom you are comfortable, and who takes your concerns seriously. If you don't have such a doctor and are experiencing anxiety on an ongoing basis, consider changing. To learn how, click here.