Choking, hyperventilation, paresthesias, loss of body control … are common symptoms of anxiety attacks. But if there is one symptom that mainly generates the fear of dying when you have one of these attacks, it is the existence of chest pain.
And this is it chest pain from anxiety is a really annoying symptomOften being taken by first-time sufferers 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 due to anxiety, we are referring to the perception of the pain generated by the somatization of an anxious state which can occur in the context of an anxiety attack, as a prodrome of it or in the face of the perception of continuous stress without having to reach a crisis.
This pain is generally perceived and classified as stinging, it is common in the form of stinging and can appear in different places of the torso. Pain of this type usually goes away quickly (it can be up to a quarter of an hour, but the most common is that it does not last more than a few minutes), besides not changing as much whether or not we exert a physical effort. .
In addition to the pain itself, it is common for them to appear with it symptoms such as hyperventilation, numbness in the limbs and usually a feeling of being angry, dying, or completely losing control of your body.
Common confusion with heart problems
Chest pain is a common occurrence in anxiety somatization, but as we mentioned in the introduction, the fact that it is also a typical symptom of heart problems and especially angina and of myocardial infarction makes the two problems often confused.
The similarities are many but can be distinguished by the fact that in the case of pain due to heart disease, the pain is usually more specific to specific points on the chest and arm (although it should be kept in mind that the typical symptoms of infarction generally refer in the case of men, being the most common place in women), they tend to persist over time and worsen with physical exertion and on the contrary, in anxiety, there is generally no respiratory alteration or loss of control.
In any case, it is possible that a heart problem could cause anxiety and it is advisable to go to a medical service as soon as possible to ensure that the problem in question is anxiety and not real medical problem.
Since chest pain from anxiety is not the product of heart disease, it is legitimate to wonder why it occurs. The ultimate cause is suffering from a high level of anxiety. Yet the reason anxiety somatization appears as pain it obeys many physiological aspects which may appear as a result of the activation produced by it.
First, when we are stressed, scared or anxious, we generate a high level of adrenaline and cortisol, which at the physiological level results in the activation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system (responsible for activating the body to allow reactions such as fighting or flying). When the anxiety attack occurs, this activation generates high muscle tension in order to prepare the body to respond quickly. This continuous tension can cause some level of pain in different parts of the body, being their chest.
Likewise, fear and nervousness also tend to generate increased lung activity, leading to hyperventilation. This hyperventilation also means a high level of movement of the chest muscles and diaphragm, which, along with muscle tension, promotes pain. Plus, the fact that you’re constantly doing short, shallow inhalations makes you feel like you’re drowning, which in turn will generate more nerve activation and more inhalations.
Another disorder common in times of anxiety and implicated in anxious chest pain is impaired gastric motility and dilation of the digestive tractThis can even cause a pinch in the nerves of the torso, or a buildup of gas in the stomach that can rise to the chest and cause pain.
To treat chest pain from anxiety, you will first need to treat the cause that generates it, which is the anxiety itself.
At the cognitive level in the first place, the first thing to assess is the reason why this feeling of anxiety arose, being necessary analyze what external or internal factors agitate us and internally agitate us so much so that our body needs to express it through the body.
It is also necessary to assess whether we are faced with something before which we can or cannot act directly. If there is something we can do to change it, we can try to generate some kind of behavior modification or develop a strategy to solve the problem in question. In case the anxiety is due to something uncontrollable and unchanging, we will have to restructure our way of dealing with this situation. It would be a question of relativizing the problem, reducing its importance and assessing whether it or its possible consequences are really so relevant to the subject itself.
Another aspect that can be of great help is training and practicing different relaxation exercises, which take into account breathing in particular, although muscle relaxation techniques are also useful. Yoga, meditation or mindfulness are also very useful practices that make it difficult to install anxiety and allow anxious situations to be put into perspective.
If we are in the middle of an anxiety attack, the first thing to assess is that the anxiety will not kill us and that this pain is a fleeting thing and the product of its own reaction. We should try, as much as possible, to calm down (even if it is not easy). the same we have to try to focus on our breathing, By avoiding hyperventilation as much as possible and by trying to do deep, slow inhalations. Eventually the crisis will happen.
- Barker, P. (2003). Nursing in psychiatry and mental health: the nursing profession. London: Edward Arnold.
- Seligman, MEP; Walker, EF; Rosenhan, DL Anormal Psychology (4th ed.). New York: WW Norton & Company.
- Sylvers, Patrick; Lilienfeld, Scott O .; Laprairie, Jamie L. (2011). “Differences between trait fear and trait anxiety: implications for psychopathology.” Journal of clinical psychology. 31 (1): 122-37.