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How to Relieve Heartburn-Related Anxiety


Stressing over heartburn? Here’s how to feel better.

chicken dish on table

When most people think about heartburn, they think of the physical discomfort it causes, the burning sensation that creeps up your chest after a meal.

But what often gets lost in the conversation is the psychological aspect of heartburn. Those with the condition often worry about it all day long. It can be on your mind during breakfast at your desk, when you shop at the grocery store, when you're deciding whether to go to a restaurant with friends, and when you get into bed.

That's a huge mental load, but there are some key ways to stress less about the problem so it doesn't consume every waking moment.

Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t

It's easy to think of heartburn as a limiting condition and focus only on what you can't eat. But try thinking about heartburn in the opposite way: Concentrate on what you love to eat from the list of foods that don’t upset your stomach. Write a list of your favorite foods and recipes (check heartburn-friendly cookbooks and search online). Then plan your meals—or at least your dinners for the week—ahead of time. For instance, if you know that you're going to have root vegetable tacos on Tuesday, a chicken and rice casserole on Wednesday, and turkey pitas on Thursday, you'll look forward to those meals — and you'll know exactly what ingredients to buy.

Find go-to restaurants and dishes

Going out to dinner with friends is one of the hardest parts of having heartburn. Do you say no and miss out on a special birthday celebration or girls' night? Or do you go and let everyone stare at you when you order a water (no lemon!) and nothing else? One strategy that may help is doing some scouting around your neighborhood. Find local restaurants where you know the menu inside and out and know exactly what you can order and still feel good. Then, the next time your group is planning a gathering, suggest everyone meet at a place you know works for you.

Treat your heartburn properly

One of the reasons you might be anxious about heartburn is because you're not getting the appropriate treatment. If changing your diet isn't enough or if the medication that you're on isn't working well, talk to your doctor about other options. For example, if an antacid isn't doing the trick, and your heartburn is frequent (meaning you have it two or more days each week), then taking a proton-pump inhibitor might be the answer. Or if an over-the-counter version of a product isn't helping, ask your doctor if a prescription-strength version could provide relief.

Take some “me time” every day

Classic stress-reduction techniques may be useful, including getting regular exercise (if physical activity isn't a heartburn trigger for you), meditating, listening to music, getting a massage, sitting outside and enjoying nature, or even just petting a dog. The secret is scheduling this "me time" into your day, as if it were a physical therapy appointment that you can’t miss. Whether it's for just five minutes or an hour a day, relaxing and doing something that makes you happy can help you feel calmer.