Although anxiety is a mental concept, it can have a significant impact on the physical body. Our breath becomes more shallow, we may start sweating and even become nauseous and jittery. One frightening but well recognised symptom of anxiety and panic attacks is chest pain. This can trigger another layer of stress and worry because we then begin thinking of worst-case scenarios in our mind.  

This article is going to explore stress induced chest pains, why they occur and some natural remedies than I have found have helped with the symptoms. 

What does anxiety chest pain feel like?

Anxiety tends to make us feel isolated because of its overwhelming presence. As a result, we can begin to frantically Google search every little sensation and pain we feel in the hope that someone else has experienced the same symptom in exactly the same way for some reassurance. The truth is that there is no single way to feel stress, anxiety or panic attacks and therefore, it is incredibly hard to compare one individual to another. [1]

With something like chest pains, they may be the initial warning sign of a panic attack for some and for others, they could be felt on a more frequent basis. Chest pains are not limited to, but can feel like:

  • sharp, shooting pain
  • persistent chest aching
  • an unusual muscle twitch or spasm in your chest
  • burning, numbness, or a dull ache
  • stabbing pressure
  • chest tension or tightness [2]

For me, chest pain was most often the biggest signal that anxiety was on its way. Over the course of 3 years I was averaging 3-4 panic attacks a week. It would begin with this sensation that all the air was leaving the room and a pile of bricks were building up on my chest. Sometimes I would feel the pain more on the left side (which of course set off alarm bells) but a lot of the time it would be a dull ache spreading from the left side to the right. The most frustrating part of it all was that once I had calmed down, my muscles were still so constricted and tense, that the chest pain although slightly reduced, still remained. It seemed like a never-ending cycle that made it harder for me to breathe and left me unable to exercise, wear fitted clothes or lie flat down for a year and a half.

Why does anxiety cause chest pain?

There could potentially be numerous reasons for chest pain to occur from severe stress and anxiety however, these are the two more common explanations:

Hyperventilating

When anxiety begins to surface, we tend to breathe a lot quicker. This rapid over-breathing then causes our carbon dioxide levels to reduce in our blood and can make us feel light-headed, increase our heart-beat and trigger breathlessness. [3]

Muscle constriction

Prolonged periods of worry, anxiety and panic attacks cause our muscles to tighten as part of the stress response where our flight-fight system is activated due to our brain detecting a ‘potential threat’.

Am I having a heart attack?

Chest pain is commonly associated with heart attacks. I have lost count of the times that I genuinely believed I was having one and spent hours endlessly scanning articles and medical websites trying to convince myself that I was okay.

The most helpful concept that always reassured me in being able to differentiate between heart and anxiety attacks, is that with an anxiety attack, the sharpness of the pain disappears after a short amount of time whereas with a heart attack, the sharpness tends to build up and worsen over a longer period. [4]

It can be really tough to not worry about chest pain, especially if you have only recently begun to experience anxiety. If you feel you need more reassurance, I would definitely recommend seeing your GP so you are able to get the context and clarity to help ease your mind.

Natural remedies to ease stress chest pain 

I am a big advocate for natural and holistic remedies. Here are four ways that helped me to take control and ease my chest pain:

Warm drink

Having a hot herbal drink is always my first port of call in calming any anxiety symptoms. I find that the warmth helps to loosen tight muscles, facilitate easier breathing and comfort my mind.

Breathing

Your breath is an extremely powerful instrument in controlling anxiety. Taking deep concentrated breaths helps to reduce your heart rate and not fluster your body. Try doing a simple equal-part breathing exercise where you inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 4 using deep belly breaths.

Havening

Although it’s not widely recognised, Havening is a sensory therapy which uses the application of touch on our bodies to calm anxiety and our perception of the triggers which cause panic. I used Havening extensively for my stress chest pain and you can find out more about it here.

Yoga

A great practice which combines the breath and specific postures to help you stretch and strengthen your body whilst also pacifying your mind. Peace over Panic has a beginner’s yoga practice designed specifically for stress and anxiety relief which you can learn more about here.

 

If you are worried about your stress chest pain, please be reassured you are not alone and that you can manage the discomfort. Speak with your GP if you are concerned and try to incorporate these small natural remedies to find some ease. I know it can be a daunting experience but remember the panic and anxiety is not permanent and will pass.

To explore more tips and guidance on managing your stress and anxiety, head on over to Peace over Panic Blog.

 

REFERENCES

[1] NHS, Anxiety, fear and panic: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-panic/

[2] Healthline, Understanding Anxiety Chest Pain: https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/anxiety-chest-pain

[3] Michigan Medicine, Hyperventilation https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hypvn

[4] Medical News Today  Panic attack vs. heart attack: How to tell the difference: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322797

  

Nav Sohanpaul

My name is Nav Sohanpaul and I am the creator of Peace over Panic Blog - a space dedicated to those experiencing overwhelming stress, anxiety and panic attacks. Everything I write about has come from my own personal journey, with the goal of helping anyone out there to feel more hopeful and in control of their mental health.

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