Wellness·4 min read

Health Anxiety Takes a Toll on Black Women — But Here's What You Can Do

A Black woman lying on a hospital bed under an x-ray machine
February 27, 2024

High maternal mortality rates and increased risk of heart disease and stroke are just a couple of the terrifying headlines Black women are living through. While some (all too slow) strides are being made, these reports are a reminder of the constant anxiety Black women have always faced when it comes to their health, says LaTasha Seliby Perkins, MD, assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine. 

This is “racism, capitalized and underlined, bold and italicized,” says Rheeda Walker, PhD, professor, clinical psychologist, and author. “It would be almost impossible to avoid having some level of hypervigilance about one's own individual health.” 

The irony no one asked for is that this chronic stress further impacts Black women's mental and physical health, as well as the healthcare decisions they choose to make. But there are ways you can protect your mental health and advocate for your overall health. 

How anxiety impacts your health and care choices

Being constantly anxious about your health can become a form of chronic stress, says Perkins. “That anxiety is going to manifest in a physical health issue — high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol,” she says. Some of which Black women are already more at risk for. Studies show that it may even speed up biological aging

Institutional untrustworthiness, being dismissed by doctors, or being stressed about the outcome of health procedures may mean some Black women avoid healthcare altogether. “Some of the things that I certainly see are some reluctance to seek medical treatment, just kind of a worry about, ‘How am I going to be treated? What's going to happen to me?’” says Kaela Farrise, therapist and founder of Therapy While Black

That can mean screenings and check-ups are put off, increasing the risk of health concerns going unchecked. But “stepping away from [healthcare] isn't the answer,” says Perkins. “Not going to the doctor will only further the health disparities that exist, and inaction can worsen the problem.” She suggests continuing to look for a doctor who will listen to you. Farrise says having an advocate — whether a friend or family member — with you (IRL or on the phone) at doctor’s appointments can help you feel more supported. 

How to protect your mental and physical health 

Despite how much of this can feel out of your control, there are ways to protect your mental and physical health. 

  • Meet your basic needs. Don’t underestimate how much sleep, nutritious meals, and hydration can help keep your stress levels down. Easier said than done if you’re a parent, struggling financially, or don’t have easy access to healthy food. “Start with bite-sized changes and go one hour, one day, one step at a time,” says Perkins. That might mean getting one more piece of fruit each day. If fresh produce is inaccessible, opt for canned and frozen produce which cost less and last longer. 

  • Get as much rest as you can. Even if you can only find a spare 10 minutes in the day, give it back to yourself (sans guilt) with a short nap or mindfulness practice

  • Monitor your self-talk. We have to be aware of what we're telling ourselves, says Walker. She recommends affirmations like: “‘I am worthy of being heard. I am worthy of getting my health concerns addressed.’” Be mindful of the ‘strong Black woman’ mindset, she says. Especially if you’re often in the position of taking care of others. It’s OK to feel that “‘it is my turn to be taken care of.’” 

  • Surround yourself with a supportive community. Whether that’s one person or 10, says Perkins. Farrise also suggests group therapy. “It can be very comforting … to be in a space where you are automatically heard and believed,” she says. 

  • Don’t be afraid to fire your doctor. Particularly if they made you feel ignored or not taken seriously, says Farrise. It may not always be possible to find a Black doctor near you, but organizations like Find a Black Doctor, the Association of Black Women Physicians, or Health in Her Hue can help. Farrise also recommends asking for recommendations from your network of friends and family. 

  • Prepare ahead for doctor’s visits. This isn’t work you should have to do. But bringing a list of symptoms and questions (plus our scripts to combat medical gaslighting) to your appointments can help ensure you’re heard. 


A lot of navigating healthcare as a Black woman is outside of your control — and isn’t a problem that’s on you to fix. But there are ways you can take back power over your health, starting with prioritizing your mental health and advocating for yourself in the doctor’s office

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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