Can Chronic Illness Cause Anxiety? Knowing When and Where to Get Help

Just like any other source of stress or trauma, chronic illness can provoke anxiety disorders. But where do you go from there—when the combined symptoms are almost too much to handle? Anxiety treatment programs can help you reclaim your power so you can manage life and the challenges that lay ahead.

When Justin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he thought his doctor must be joking. He couldn’t rationalize the reasons for why he should have developed diabetes at the healthy age of 29, and—even more so—he struggled to reimagine the rest of his life with this chronic illness at the center of it.

Justin’s doctor set him up with a diabetes educator and a nutritionist and a list of new equipment and rules and cautions he would need to prioritize in his life. He didn’t have a choice in any of it. And his whole life would have to change. At least, that’s what Justin was hearing over and over in his head.

It didn’t take long before Justin’s mind was consumed with the worries of counting carbs and insulin injections and what people would think of him with this new ailing identity. It’s true that the responsibilities of his diabetes took up a lot of his time and his attention, but his anxiety about it all filled up the other moments of his day. And it felt as if his entire life had changed. He had changed.

Can chronic illness really cause anxiety? Can someone like Justin, who has never experienced more than mild situational anxiety in the past, develop a true anxiety disorder following a medical diagnosis? Anxiety disorders are dynamic reactions to an individual’s internal and external conditions. The serious triggers for anxiety disorders vary, and treatment is necessary so that the symptoms do not dangerously escalate.

How Can Chronic Illness Cause Anxiety?


When someone has a chronic illness—whether it be physical or psychological—it can be understandably distressing to deal with the symptoms and concerns for the future. The more this illness may consume a person’s life and thoughts, the more negativity tends to take over. Hence, it is possible for chronic illness to trigger anxiety because a person begins to associate significant aspects of their life with fearful thoughts and feelings. Then, perhaps the anxiety itself becomes an additional burden on top of the original illness, and the causes for anxiousness increase even more.

This is the nature of anxiety: it tends to compound. It interacts with the surrounding environmental and psychological factors and takes on a life of its own. Anxiety can similarly be triggered by losing someone close, a serious injury, abuse, stressful relationships, and many other traumatic experiences and life conditions.

It’s also possible that a person’s anxiety symptoms might aggravate their chronic illness. Excessive stress, panic attacks, fearing even everyday situations, insomnia, fatigue, tension and pain—these anxious reactions and more can impede a person’s healing and potentially make the symptoms of their illness even more serious. When chronic illness and anxiety are co-occurring, it is critically important that they receive comprehensive care and treatment.

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What Are the Anxiety Treatments You Need to Know About?


When you have co-occurring anxiety and chronic illness, these problems are distinct and, yet, they are closely connected as well. Regardless of what the chronic illness may be, anxiety disorders can easily spiral out of control if not treated early—especially with the ongoing stress of persistent health problems.

When anxiety symptoms are overwhelming and easily triggered, a residential treatment center may be the best option for dedicated, comprehensive care. When a chronic illness is a facet of your life, it’s important to be able to develop coping strategies and stress management skills that will empower you into the future. Developing these skills can be a seemingly impossible task when you are buried under the immense weight of anxiety, but with the right support in a nurturing environment, climbing out from under that burden is entirely possible.

Anxiety treatment programs prioritize:

  • Individual psychotherapy through strong therapeutic alliances
  • Group therapy and support in a judgment-free environment
  • Medications, carefully monitored, for symptom management
  • Holistic therapies for stress relief and personal wellness

And in the context of inpatient anxiety programs, treatment plans are individually designed for each client. Where possible, there may be helpful integration of treatment options for anxiety disorder and the chronic illness in question. When a treatment program can consider and care for the whole person, the recovery outcomes are ideal.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders, eating disorders, and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.