Coping With Stress, Anxiety, and Fear

Coping With Stress, Anxiety, and Fear

By Diane LaChapelle PhD LPsyc

Two common initial reactions to pain and injury are anxiety and fear. This is understandable when you are faced with a new situation that requires greater understanding and knowledge and that also requires you to develop new skills.

Fear and anxiety are not the same. Fear is experienced when you feel threatened or believe you are in danger. Fear is directed towards a specific situation. Anxiety, while closely related to fear, is experienced in a more general way. Anxiety is a general uneasiness. The source of the anxiety may not be easy to identify.

When you are faced with a chronic pain condition, an injury, or a new diagnosis, certain specific fears are likely to arise. Common fears include:

  • concerns about whether the pain will get worse in the future
  • concerns about whether various activities will cause further injury or damage
  • concerns about whether you'll be able to continue working

In the face of these fears, you may experience the general sense of uneasiness associated with anxiety.

Fear and anxiety can lead to catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is an irrational thought process in which you believe that the worst possible outcome will happen. For people with pain, catastrophic thoughts often focus on pain as awful, horrible, unbearable, and as having completely ruined their lives. They expect ongoing difficulties and that all things in the future will continue to be awful, horrible, and unbearable. Researchers have found that catastrophizing increase pain. Catastrophizing can also further fear, anxiety, depression, and stress.

A small amount of anxiety can actually help in the short-term. It encourages you to seek out information and to start developing the skills needed to cope more effectively with the pain. But too much anxiety and fear can paralyze you. High levels of fear or anxiety may prevent you from learning more about your illness, keep you from developing new skills, or cause you to avoid activities. For these reasons, you need to learn to manage your fear and anxiety as soon as possible. Start by educating yourself about your pain condition. Next, try the strategies outlined below.

The following pages in this section can help you to reduce your anxiety, fear, or stress:

  • Relaxation Techniques. Make sure to practice these daily.
  • Cognitive Restructuring. Negative thinking can often make pain worse. This page shows you how to challenge your negative thinking.
  • Pleasurable Activities. This page talks about the importance of doing things you enjoy as this can help distract you from the pain, keep you active, and improve your mood.
  • Identifying Personal Values. This page helps you re-evaluate what is important to you and therefore what you want to spend your energy on.

For more information about stress, see this website:

Some words of caution

Self-help resources may be all you need to help you better manage your fear, anxiety, and stress. However, you should consult a psychologist or your family physician if you experience any of the following:

  • anxiety, fear, or stress lasting longer than a few weeks
  • trouble sleeping
  • unexplained physical symptoms such as headache or upset stomach
  • anxious thoughts that limit your activities.

If you have experienced a panic attack or think you might have post-traumatic stress disorder, see your family physician or a psychologist as soon as possible. For more information about on these anxiety disorders, click on this link: http://www.medicinenet.com/panic_disorder/article.htm or http://www.medicinenet.com/posttraumatic_stress_disorder/article.htm