Approximately one in two adults in the United States is living with one or more chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity). These diseases contribute significantly to the health burden of the United States, including disability, early mortality, and increased healthcare costs. It is estimated that 20-34% of all cardiovascular and cancer deaths could be averted through modifiable behavioral risk factors (e.g., physical inactivity, tobacco use). Thus, our ability to significantly reduce the burden of physical disease lies, in part, in our ability to identify barriers to (and facilitators of) health behavior change.
Anxiety and stress disorders (e.g., worry, fear, panic) are vastly overrepresented among those with chronic health conditions/diseases. Unfortunately, this comorbidity further entrenches the problematic lifestyle behaviors that contribute to disease. However, the reasons why these health disparities exist are less clear. To understand these issues, we examine psychological factors that influence how individuals emotionally react to anxiety/stress and behaviorally respond with problematic health behaviors. We conduct this research to inform the primary prevention of disease onset, and secondary prevention of disease progression in individuals already living with chronic disease.