Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

January 25, 2024 / BY / IN Blog

How to tell whether your chest pain is heart-related, anxiety-related, or something else.

What Anxiety Chest Pains Feel Like

  • Intense heart palpitations
  • Tingling or numbness, commonly in hands and feet
  • A dull, persistent aching soreness
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Abdominal distress
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A burning sensation inside the body or on the skin
  • Headaches and muscle tension
  • Muscle twitching or spasms
  • Faster breathing

What Heart attack Chest Pains Feel Like

  • The quality of pain tends to be more of an intense pressure, almost like an elephant sitting on your chest, or someone grabbing your chest and squeezing very hard. It may also present with an aching or burning sensation, and some can even confuse it for heartburn.
  • Pain progressively worsens and does not improve with time.
  • Location of the pain starts in the chest, but radiates to the neck, jaw shoulder, one or both arms, upper back, or upper belly.
  • Sweating, nausea, and lightheadedness can accompany the chest pain, more so for women than for men.
  • Chest pain occurs during times of physical exertion and not necessarily during moments of stress.
  • The symptoms are longer-lasting and do not simply resolve; can lead to damaging effects that may be permanent. 

What part of your chest hurts with anxiety?

Most often, people with anxiety report a tight feeling in the center of their chest.

How do you know if chest pain is not heart-related?

While anxiety-related chest pain can feel different from person to person, it tends to limit itself to the chest alone. On the other hand, most people experiencing heart attack chest pain describe a squeezing, heavy, or aching pain that radiates outward from the chest to the arms, shoulders, back, and/or jaw. Heart-related chest pain also tends to last for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.

Some causes of anxiety chest pain include:

  • Stress, when left unattended, can be a major cause of anxiety chest pain for many people. The “fight or flight” response will soon kick in.
  • When you are anxious about something, whether real or imagined, it can be a trigger for anxiety chest pain.
  • People that have recurrent or regular anxiety attacks may have a diagnosis of panic disorder.

How to Relieve Anxiety Chest Pains

There are a variety of ways to relieve anxiety chest pains, including:

  • Slow down! Start by slowing down your breathing, which can help slow down your thoughts as well. Try breathing in slowly to a count of five (you should be able to see your stomach rise or “swell” like a balloon) through the nose and exhaling slowly to a count of five through the mouth. Repeat this cycle several times until you get rid of all the unwanted feelings. Practice daily whenever you feel your anxiety rise.
  • Try progressive relaxation techniques, including focusing on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. This can help you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. You can become more aware of physical sensations, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Turn your focus away from whatever is causing you discomfort.
  • Call a trusted friend or, if you are seeing a counselor or therapist, give them a call.
  • Listen to some calming music.
  • For some people, biofeedback works wonders. While some types (such as those that measure brain waves) are done in a professional setting, wearable devices and apps exist that can measure your heart rate, control your breathing, and relax your muscles.
  • If you have been prescribed medication for anxiety, make sure you are not missing any doses.

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Anxiety Chest Pains

Simple changes in your lifestyle can go a long way in helping to prevent anxiety chest pains. These include:

  • Practice regular breathing exercises daily.
  • It is very important to get regular exercise, especially cardiovascular and aerobic exercises, so that you can relieve tension, improve your mood, decrease stress levels, and boost your overall confidence to ward off anxiety.
  • Avoid caffeine, cigarette smoking, and excessive alcohol use, as these can worsen anxiety.
  • Stabilizing your blood sugar can also prevent anxiety attacks by avoiding spikes in your glucose levels. This is accomplished by eating regular and well-balanced, healthy meals.
By John Riddle
Medical Reviewer Gregory Payne, MD, PhD