Chest pain due to anxiety: symptoms, causes and treatment
Sensation of suffocation, hyperventilation, paresthesias, loss of control of one’s body … are common symptoms of anxiety crises. But if there is a symptom that generates especially the fear of dying when we have one of these crises is the existence of chest pain.
And is that chest pain anxiety is a really annoying symptom , being often taken by those who suffer it for the first time as an indication of the beginning of the end. Throughout this article we will talk about this type of pain, indicating some of its causes and how to treat it.
Chest pain from anxiety: basic symptoms
When we talk about chest pain anxiety we refer to the perception of pain generated by the somatization of an anxious state that can occur in the context of an anxiety crisis, as a prodrome of this or the perception of continued stress without having why reach a crisis.
This pain is usually perceived and classified as stinging, being usual that it occurs in the form of punctures and that it can appear in different points of the torso. The pain of this type usually disappears promptly (can reach a quarter of an hour, but the most usual is that they last only a few minutes), in addition to not change whether we do physical efforts or not.
In addition to the pain itself, symptoms such as hyperventilation, numbness of the extremities and, usually, a feeling of being crazy, dying or losing complete control over one’s own body are common.
Frequent confusion with heart problems
Chest pain is a frequent phenomenon in the somatization of anxiety, but as we mentioned in the introduction the fact that it is also a typical symptom of heart problems and especially angina pectoris and myocardial infarctions makes often both problems are confused.
The similarities are many but can be distinguished by the fact that in the case of heart pains the pain is usually more specific to specific points of the chest and arm (although it must be taken into account that the typical symptoms of heart attack tend to refer to the case of men, being the most generalized location in the case of women), tend to persist over time and worsen with physical effort and contrary to anxiety that usually does not occur or respiratory alterations or loss of control .
In any case, it is possible that a heart problem can generate anxiety and it is advisable to go as soon as possible to a medical service to ensure that the problem in question is anxiety and not a real medical problem.
Bearing in mind that chest pain due to anxiety is not the product of heart disease, it is legitimate to ask why it appears. The ultimate cause is the suffering of a high level of anxiety. However, the reason that the somatization of anxiety appears in the form of pain is due to numerous physiological aspects that may appear as a consequence of the activation produced by it.
In the first place, when we are stressed, we are afraid or we are anxious we are generating a high level of adrenaline and cortisol, something that at the physiological level is translated into the activation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system (responsible for activating the body to allow reactions like those of fight or flight). When the anxiety crisis arises, this activation generates a high muscular tension in order to prepare the body to respond quickly. This continuous tension can generate a certain level of pain in different parts of the body, with the chest being one of them.
Likewise, fear and nervousness also tend to generate an increase in lung activity, leading to hyperventilation. Said hyperventilation also supposes a high level of movement of the thoracic musculature and of the diaphragm, something that together with the muscular tension favors the pain. In addition, the fact of constantly doing short and superficial inhalations makes the sensation of drowning appear, something that in turn will generate more nervous activation and a greater number of inhalations.
Another frequent alteration in moments of anxiety and that participates in the pain in the chest by anxiety is the alteration of the gastric motility and the dilation of the digestive tract , which can even generate a clamping in the nerves of the torso, or the accumulation of gases in the stomach that can rise to the chest and generate pain.
To treat chest pain due to anxiety, the cause that generates it, that is, the anxiety itself, will have to be treated first.
At a cognitive level, first of all, the first thing to assess is why this anxiety has arisen, and it is necessary to analyze what external or internal factors remove and agitate us internally to such an extent that our body needs to express it through the body.
We also have to assess whether we are facing something before what we can or can not act directly. If we can do something to change it, we can move on to try to generate some type of behavioral modification or develop a strategy to solve the problem in question. In case the anxiety is due to something that is not controllable and unchangeable, we will have to restructure our way of relating to this situation . It would be to relativize the problem, reducing its importance and assessing whether this or its possible consequences are really so relevant to the subject itself.
Another aspect that can be of great help is the training and practice of different relaxation exercises, which take into account especially breathing although muscle relaxation techniques are also useful. Yoga, meditation or mindfulness are also very useful practices that make it difficult to establish anxiety and relativize anxiogenic situations.
If we are in the middle of an anxiety crisis, the first thing we must value is that anxiety will not kill us and that this pain is temporary and a product of our own reaction to it. We must try, as much as possible, to calm down (although it is not easy). We must also try to focus on our breathing , avoiding hyperventilation as much as possible and trying to do deep and slow inhalations. The crisis will end up happening.