How To Relieve Chest Pain From Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Sudden chest pain can be a common symptom of anxiety, particularly during panic attacks, and it can be frightening. The hyperventilation that often occurs during anxiety or panic attacks can lead to a fight-or-flight response that frequently brings with it a variety of common symptoms. To calm anxiety and reduce chest pain from a panic attack, it can be helpful to focus on positive affirmations, distract yourself, and take deep breaths. Practicing a healthy lifestyle can also reduce anxiety in general. Working with a licensed therapist in person or online can help you work through anxiety and improve your overall mental health. If you’re unsure whether chest pain is related to anxiety or a physical health issue like a heart attack, please seek immediate medical care.

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Learn to manage anxiety and reduce panic-related chest pain

How does anxiety cause chest pain?

When someone experiences intense anxiety, such as a panic attack, they can hyperventilate. Hyperventilation can rapidly increase the amount of oxygen and lower the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood, potentially causing your body to experience a fight-or-flight response. This fight-or-flight response is generally responsible for the anxiety symptoms you may experience during a panic attack, which can include chest pain, increased blood pressure and heart rate, heart palpitations, dizziness, muscle tension, lightheadedness, bloating, and confusion.

Chest pain related to anxiety tends to feel different for everyone. Burning, dull aches, an unusual muscle twitch, or sharp shooting pains in the chest are often symptoms of this type of anxiety. Chest pain with anxiety can be common.

In fact, one study showed that as many as 77% of people who experienced a panic attack generally went to the emergency room with non-cardiac, anxiety-induced chest pain after the attack.

The pain caused by generalized anxiety disorder or panic attacks is sometimes confused with heart attack pain. Like panic attacks, heart attacks often have symptoms that include chest pain. The average person may not notice significant differences between anxiety and heart attack symptoms. As a result, if you experience chest pain and you aren’t feeling anxious or live with frequent anxiety, it can be crucial to seek medical attention for your heart. 

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How to relieve chest tightness from anxiety during a panic attack

It may take a few minutes for your body to return to normal after experiencing a panic attack, which can feel like an uncomfortably long time. Knowing strategies to ease chest pain from anxiety may prepare you for the next time you experience a panic attack. This doesn’t necessarily mean learning how to prevent a panic attack, but if you can lessen the severity of the attack, you may alleviate the chest pain (persistent chest pain may be different and should be addressed by a medical professional). 

There is generally no one-size-fits-all approach to stopping a panic attack or coping with a panic disorder, but there may be coping techniques you can do to make panic attacks shorter and milder. You might try the following:

  • Prepare a script of positive thoughts. During a panic attack, your mind may race with negative thoughts that can be likely to fuel and worsen the attack. By preparing a list of positive things, you can counter the negative thoughts and try to stop your panic attack before it escalates. You might keep a copy folded up in your pocket or as a note in your phone and pull it out when you need to, reading your positive thoughts out loud to drown out the negative.
  • Focus on your breathing. As mentioned above, hyperventilation is frequently responsible for many of the physical symptoms you may feel during a panic attack. Slowing down your breathing can help. Find a quiet place if you can, and put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Try to take slow, deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. The hand on your stomach should rise and fall with your breath, and the one on your chest should stay still. Continue breathing deeply until you’re able to calm down. 
  • Distract yourself. Focusing on your negative thoughts during a panic attack can lead to further anxiety, so you might find something to distract yourself with when you feel anxious. Try petting your cat or dog, turning on a TV show that always makes you laugh, calling a friend who is good at calming you down, singing or humming your favorite song, or going for a run.
Learn to manage anxiety and reduce panic-related chest pain

Learn how to address anxiety chest pain and other anxiety symptoms

If you have severe anxiety that leads to panic attacks or makes you experience anxiety chest pain, speaking with a licensed mental health professional may help you manage your symptoms and potentially reduce the frequency and severity of your panic attacks. Online therapy might be the right choice for you if you’re ready to get started with treatment. 

Online therapy often has many benefits, especially for people living with anxiety disorders. People with anxiety can feel overwhelmed trying to find a therapist and hoping for an open appointment slot. Talking to a therapist face-to-face can be difficult, but attending therapy online may make it a little easier to open up and get the help you deserve.

In addition to being convenient, studies show online therapy can be effective in treating many conditions, potentially including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorders. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you feel you’d benefit from working with a licensed therapist.

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If you’re wondering how to relieve chest tightness from anxiety, know that there are strategies that may lead to significant improvement. Practicing deep breathing and distracting yourself can help in the moment, and online therapy may help you determine how to address the underlying anxiety that may be causing your panic attacks. 

If you’re unsure whether your chest pain is related to anxiety, please see a healthcare provider in the emergency department to rule out physical causes or receive medical treatment if necessary. If medical causes are ruled out, it may help to speak with a therapist about ways to mitigate chest discomfort due to anxiety attacks. If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-person therapy, you might consider online therapy for anxiety. Take the first step toward getting support with anxiety, and contact BetterHelp today.
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