Experiencing any kind of pain in your chest area can be downright terrifying. Many people automatically assume it to be a heart-related issue but in reality, chest pain can have many interpretations other than being related to the heart. Many other conditions such as costochondritis (inflammation in the area connecting the sternum to the rib cage), fibromyalgia, or even anxiety can cause discomfort in your chest. So, let’s dive into this topic so you we can all gain a better understanding.
How Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?
Being anxious and worried from time to time is a normal part of life. However, if you’re experiencing anxiety more frequently, then it can create a physical responses as well. When you’re in a situation where you feel overwhelmed, panicked or really stressed, anxiety can cause physical reactions such as sweating, shortness of breath, a stiff feeling in the body, increased heart-rate, and also chest pain.
Chest pain during anxiety can cause even more anxiety because people think they have developed some issues related to the heart. It’s the kind of problem that feeds on itself. Anxiety makes your heart race, you start to think something is wrong with your heart, which in turn increases your anxiety… and you can see where this goes from here! If you’re anxious often and experience chest issues, then it could be a good sign that you’re in fact dealing with anxiety and not any heart-related problem.
Can costochondritis be caused by anxiety?
Anxiety from the flight or fight response can cause your body to get pumped up so you can fight or escape. Your body usually returns to its normal state within 30 minutes, but if you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety, then your body can’t return to the normal condition so easily. This further promotes the muscle tension, and staying stiff for long periods of time may cause costochondritis.
Though anxiety can cause costochondritis and many people have reported as such, there’s not much proof or scientific research to back this claim. Stress and anxiety can often be blamed for causing chest aches and other physical problems. Anxiety may be a catalyst for worsening your costochondritis but there isn’t any direct correlation between the two cases. You should also note that not every chest pain is costochondritis or a heart condition and what you’re experiencing might be entirely different. Diagnosing costochondritis can be a complex process, and it’s important to rule out other similar or more serious conditions. It’s always better to consult a doctor so you can fully understand your situation which will help ease your worrying as well as help you come up with a solution for the symptoms you’re dealing with.
On the other hand, you might have costochondritis but don’t entirely know it yet. Costochondritis specifically causes pain in the chest which can seem like a heart problem to any average person. Anyone who is not isn’t a medical professional and aware of the different causes of chest pain may automatically assume it to be a heart issue. People fear that they might be having a heart attack or any other severe cardiovascular problem. This further fuels their anxiety because they don’t completely understand their problem and link everything to the heart. So, in this way, costochondritis and anxiety can run in circles promoting each other.
How can you tell if your chest pain is caused by anxiety or panic attacks?
Symptoms may vary from person to person and you should always consult your doctor for concerns about your heart, but there are some key differences in chest pain caused to anxiety versus chest pain caused by heart problems:
- Chest pain due to anxiety only stays in the chest area while pain due to heart issues spreads from the chest to other parts such as jaws, shoulders, and arms, etc.
- Heart-related chest pain develops when you’re engaged in some activity while chest pain due to stress develops when you’re at rest.
- Chest pain due to anxiety might feel like a sharp pain but pain due to heart problems often feels like squeezing and heavy pressure in your chest.
- Pain due to anxiety fades away after a few minutes such as 10-20 minutes, on the other hand, if your pain starts slowly and gradually keeps increasing with time, it could indicate a heart issue.
- If you’re feeling out of control in some situation, anxious, feel numbness and sweating in your hands and feet and eventually feel chest pain, then this is mostly due to anxiety but if you’re feeling normal and you start experiencing chest aches then it might be a heart-related issue.
Relieving chest pain due to anxiety
You can apply many home remedies to reduce or get rid of chest pain caused by anxiety. As anxiety is the main culprit, so your first priority should be getting rid of anxiety and soon your chest pain will subside and you will start feeling better.
Be mindful and observe yourself
Often during anxiety attacks, we let our brains run wild. One anxious thought leads to another and our brain rapidly starts multiplying all the negative thought patterns that make us feel as if we’re losing control.
The best way to instantly tackle anxiety is to be mindful and observe your thinking to see what’s going on. To begin observing yourself, focus on your breathing and direct your attention inward to quiet your mind and focus your attention. As your thoughts begin to stray or you begin to think about a feeling or sensation (e.g. chest pain!), observe that you are distracted and re-focus your attention on your breathing. Doing so, you will see that your negative thoughts might not make as much sense as you think. Breathe deeply and try to calm yourself. You will feel instantly better. If you practice self-observation often enough, you might find it to be a highly useful tool for calming yourself.
Remember it’s temporary
Chest pain due to anxiety normally goes away within half an hour. So, if you’re feeling stressed due to chest pain, remember that if you try to relax and calm down by observing yourself, it will go away within a few minutes.
Improve your lifestyle
Lack of sleep or excessive caffeine, alcohol, smoking, or refined sugars — all of these can cause your body to not work properly which further irritates you and makes you anxious. Start exercising, even a few minutes of basic exercise each day can improve how you feel. Look for any such harmful factors and eliminate or reduce them so your body and mind can operate more effectively.
Always see a doctor
Discussing everything with a doctor will help you immensely. Any doubts you have about yourself will be cleared and often medications or advice can help you get back on track. This will also help your anxiety as now you’re not guessing whether you have a heart problem or anxiety-related issue, thus reducing your stress and making your life better overall.