The physical symptoms of anxiety are many. Sometimes it causes a sensation of suffocation and hyperventilation, other times it can cause emotional headaches and there are even people who experience anxiety dizziness. However, one of the symptoms that causes most fear is the anxiety chest pain.
The problem is that many people confuse that anxiety chest pain with a heart attack, which further exacerbates fear and discomfort. However, chest pain is one of the most common symptoms in anxiety disorders, so it is important to learn to recognize and alleviate it. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Texas revealed that one in ten people who suffer from panic attacks experience chest pain.
The symptoms of Anxiety Chest Pain
Pain in the chest from anguish is usually experienced as an uncomfortable stinging sensation. Some people perceive it as punctures in different parts of the chest. Others experience it as a feeling of oppression, as if they have a weight on their chest that prevents them from breathing.
Anxiety chest pain usually appears suddenly, especially when the person feels particularly anxious, stressed or distressed. It also disappears quite quickly, usually it does not last more than ten minutes, although in some cases it can last up to 15 minutes, especially if the person is very scared because in this way it reinforces the symptom.
This symptom does not usually appear alone but is accompanied by other signs of anxiety:
– Feeling faint
– Difficulty for breathing normally
– Changes in body temperature
– Feeling that the situation is out of control
– Numbness and sweating in the feet and hands
How to differentiate anxiety chest pain from a heart attack?
Chest pain is also one of the typical symptoms of angina and myocardial infarcts, so both problems are often confused. However, there are some differences:
– Chest pain due to anxiety usually appears when we are at rest, while pain from a heart attack usually appears when we are active.
– The pain of a heart attack often extends from the chest to other parts of the body, such as the jaw, shoulders and arms, but anxiety chest pain is limited to the chest area.
– Anxiety chest pain usually develops rapidly and then fades away as quickly as it appeared, but the pain in the heart starts slowly and gradually increases in intensity.
– The pain caused by a heart problem usually persists over time and worsens with physical exertion while the pain caused by anxiety is quickly relieved when we are able to relax.
In any case, before the doubts, it is always convenient to go as soon as possible to medical service just to clarify that it is a disorder caused by anxiety and not a cardiac problem.
The “good news” is that a study conducted at the Harvard Medical School revealed that about a quarter of patients who come to the emergency room with chest pain have an anxiety crisis and, another research carried out at the University of Missouri, indicated that in 50% of the cases that pain does not have a cardiac reason.
However, knowing that chest pain does not have a cardiac origin reassures us momentarily but usually is not enough. If are not found a convincing explanation and a proper treatment, we will continue to suffer and the pain is likely to become more recurrent and chronic. It is no coincidence that approximately 50% of people suffering anxiety chest pain ends up developing agoraphobia at some point during the first year since suffering the first episode. It also increases the risk of suffering from depression and abuse of substances, usually psychotropic drugs.
On the other hand, we must not lose sight of the fact that panic attacks and phobic anxiety are linked to an increased risk of suffering a fatal cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms have not been clarified, but it may be due to changes at the physiological level caused by sustained stress.
What causes anxiety chest pain?
Chest pain from anxiety is a psychosomatic response; that is, a physical reflection of what happens in the mind. However, that does not mean that the pain is only in your mind.
The anxiety activates the physiological response of the stress, which immediately provokes specific physiological, psychological and emotional changes in the body that prepare us to face the supposed threat.
Some of those changes include tightening the muscles of the body so that they can better withstand the damage, and that includes the muscles of the chest area and the rib cage. The pain in the chest would be the reflection of that tension of the muscles of the thorax and the rib cage when we are anxious. However, that is not all.
When stress is maintained over time, the body does not recover and remains in a state of constant tension. That makes that the organism remains semi-hyperstimulated due to the constant release of cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones. When the body remains hyperstimulated it can respond with sensations and symptoms similar to those that are activated in a specific situation of stress.
In fact, one of the changes that stress causes is hyperventilation, to inhale too much oxygen when breathing, which is usually due to rapid muscle contractions and an excess of air in the lungs. Hyperventilation contracts blood vessels and also contributes to cause pain in the chest since it demands a high level of movement of the thoracic musculature and the diaphragm. In addition, short, superficial and constant inhalations make that appears the sensation of drowning, which will generate greater nervous activation increasing the number of inhalations, causing a vicious circle.
Other causes of anxiety chest pain are the alterations in gastric motility and dilation of the digestive tract. In some cases they can even cause a pinch in the nerves of the torso, or the accumulation of gas in the stomach that can rise to the chest and cause that pain.
Treatment of Anxiety Chest Pain: 5 ways to relieve it immediately
To treat anxiety chest pain it is necessary to eradicate its cause. That means you will have to fight anxiety at its source. Therefore, you need to analyze what external and internal factors are causing that anxious response. It is a deep psychological work in which you not only have to analyze your lifestyle and the environmental factors that generate stress and anguish, but you must also analyze how your way of thinking and reacting can exacerbate anxiety. In some cases, when it comes to generalized anxiety, you may need the help of a psychologist.
However, you can also resort to some techniques that will help you quickly relieve chest pain and get out of that situation:
- Practice breathing techniques. An average of eight minutes of slow and deep breathing is enough for the respiratory and cardiovascular function to be paired. Find a quiet area and inhale counting to 10 and then exhale gently also counting to 10. Repeat until you feel calm. However, there are many other breathing exercises that can be useful, you just have to find the one that works best for you.
- Put things in perspective. It is essential that you understand that it is only a pain in the chest due to anxiety, that you will not die and that you can take control of the situation whenever you want. It is about putting things in perspective, taking a psychological distance from what is happening to you so that you do not fall into an anxious loop.
- Do not fight against negative thoughts and emotions. The first impulse is usually to try to silence the negative thoughts that generate anxiety and reject the unpleasant emotions that you are experiencing. However, generally this strategy is often counterproductive and generates even more anxiety at each unsuccessful attempt. Therefore, it is better to assume the situation with a mindfulness attitude. That is, be aware of your negative thoughts and emotions but do not resist them. When you accept what is happening to you, those thoughts and emotions will fade away on their own.
- Use visualization. When you feel anxious, try to visualize a place that calms you down. This technique is especially useful when you can not leave the place where you are. The more details you can visualize, the better. If at some point you become deconcentrated, do not get angry, simply bring back your thinking to visualization, smoothly.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques will not only help you relieve anxiety chest pain, but will also allow you to lower your daily stress level. There are different options, from Yoga practice to deep muscle relaxation technique, Shultz’ Autogenic Training or trascendental meditation. You will have to find the one that works best for you.
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