Navigating Anxiety Across the Phases of a Disease

Navigating Anxiety Across the Phases of a Disease

Published on Wednesday, September 06, 2023 by Piedad Cardona

Understanding and Managing Anxiety in Different Phases of Illness

Feeling unwell is never pleasant, especially when our symptoms persist, and we feel like we need medical assistance. The prospect of seeking help from a doctor can be intimidating, causing our heart rate to increase and feelings of anxiety and discomfort. Waiting in a hospital room can also make the situation worse. If you can relate to this scenario, know you're not alone.

Patients experience varying degrees of anxiety throughout different stages of an illness as part of a normal reaction. However, others experience intense, frequent, and persistent distress, considered "illness anxiety disorder" (IAD). In this article, I address the anxiety issue arising in various stages of the disease as part of our body's reaction against something threatening us. How we respond to this anxiety can significantly impact the outcome.

Spectrum of Disease

Initial Symptoms

Symptom-related anxiety is associated with several factors, including whether the patient feels symptoms or not or if those symptoms are acute or chronic. Also, according to the type of symptom, people worry more or less. 

Some do not pay attention and let the condition worsen before seeing their doctor. In these cases, the condition can worsen so that by the time they seek help, it is too late to achieve adequate management, treatment, and improvement. Some pay sufficient attention to it and seek help once they notice that the symptoms persist for longer than they consider standard, allowing for timely and appropriate treatment. 

Some consults immediately felt discomfort, which sometimes makes it difficult to make a diagnosis because there are still no clinical or laboratory signs that help generate a diagnosis, which can lead to a partial or wrong diagnosis.

Evaluation and diagnosis

I know that the mere fact of going to the doctor generates anxiety. Sometimes, patients prefer to avoid this feeling and consult Dr. Google, who does not even have to ask for an appointment.

When attending a consultation with a medical doctor, they consider multiple factors to generate a diagnosis, including symptoms, signs, history, and diagnostic aids. In contrast, Google can only interpret symptoms or the specific query that the patient generates.

Not only is the consultation essential, but multiple tests may also be required during this phase to get the correct diagnosis.

Those who deny the disease feel anxious because they wonder, "Why am I subject to all this if I have nothing?". Those who accept that they must perform them feel less anxiety; some always think of the worst, and they ask for multiple tests even if they don't need them. This phase may take time and becomes one of the most uncertain phases.

When getting a diagnosis

Both the moments before this appointment and the moment of receiving the diagnosis generate more significant anxiety. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is very stressful; it is like somebody is labeling you for the rest of your life.

During the treatment phase
Depending on the type of treatment performed, somebody can generate more or less anxiety.
With medications-
For many, it is difficult to follow a medication plan, even for a limited time, and when somebody must take them chronically, it is even more difficult. Being able to take them regularly generates anxiety, even more so if the medications cause unwanted side effects.
Surgical management-
This is one of the most stressful due to the risks involved. Those who deny the disease decide not to carry out this type of treatment, to the extreme point of knowing that they are at risk of dying if they do not undergo it; they prefer this option.
Some accept treatment appropriately and undergo treatment with relative ease. Some accept the treatment but create an aura of great anxiety around the treatment that even infects the family with the same fear.
Some do not include the possibility of surgery in their treatment plan and ask the doctor to perform surgery. This situation is also very stressful for the patient because they feel they are not receiving adequate treatment.
Dietary management-
Although it does not seem to generate anxiety, this management does develop it. Having dietary restrictions creates a challenge for daily life because it involves the patient and their family and friends.
The patient must look for recipes or dishes in restaurants that adapt to their restrictions and often cook for them differently from the rest of the family. All these are situations that generate additional anxiety about the disease.
Other complex treatments-
Of course, suppose the patient requires even more complex management involving radiotherapy, chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, interdisciplinary management, physiotherapy, and pain. In this case, anxiety often lingers persistently and frequently combines with episodes of depression.

During the evolution of the disease

Once treatment begins, there is great expectation for rapid improvement. However, achieving this is only sometimes the case. Despite following the doctor's and his staff's recommendations, attending all therapy sessions, etc., sometimes conditions do not evolve as expected, generating great anxiety.


The prognosis of the disease depends on multiple factors, often hinging on the type of disease, the stage of prognosis, and the chosen treatment. If the prognosis includes long-term survival with a disability, managing anxiety, stress, and depression is essential to attain comprehensive well-being. 

In conclusion

Recognizing that a disease compromises various stages is crucial, as it underscores how anxiety’s intensity can fluctuate across these stages. This awareness can help you approach the situation in a way that doesn't exacerbate anxiety as a separate issue. You can also learn to manage these feelings to live a fulfilling life.


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