When family members face health problems, the entire family system can be thrown off course.

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Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia

Q: I’ve had some health scares in the past, plus my family has a history of some pretty serious health problems. I’m starting to feel anxious about having more health issues. How can I stop stressing about this?

Have you talked to your doctor about these worries? It may be difficult to bring up, but it may help your stress. Your doctor can order tests to ensure that your body is healthy. And their questions about your family’s medical history may help them come up with a plan that could keep your health on the right track. 

For instance, if breast cancer runs in your family, your doctor may emphasize the importance of monthly self breast exams and also discuss genetic testing, especially if a family member tested positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 — the gene mutations related to breast cancer. 

Likewise, if an illness such as high blood pressure or heart disease runs in your family, your doctor may recommend a “heart-healthy” plan, which includes cardiovascular exercise and eating a balanced diet to help keep your cholesterol and blood pressure down.

However, if your worries persist or you’re afraid to go to the doctor, therapy may help. When family members face health problems, the entire family system can be thrown off course. A therapist can help you understand how your family members’ illnesses have impacted you.

A therapist can also help uncover if your anxiety symbolizes another worry, such as the fear of losing control. Talking through your scary feelings can help heal old emotional scars that show up as health-related anxiety.

Juli Fraga lives in San Francisco with her husband, daughter, and two cats. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Real Simple, the Washington Post, NPR, the Science of Us, the Lily, and Vice. As a psychologist, she loves writing about mental health and wellness. When she’s not working, she enjoys bargain shopping, reading, and listening to live music. You can find her on Twitter.