Anxiety Chest Pain Relief | What Does It Feel Like? What Can Help?

Medically reviewed by Katrice Hollins, LCSW, LICSW
Updated May 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many mental health issues can manifest physically and cause symptoms like irritability, intense fear, or shortness of breath. Sudden chest pain is a common symptom of axiety, particularly during panic attacks, and it can be frightening. Luckily, there are ways to alleviate anxiety-related chest pain when it's occurring and prevent it from happening in the first place.

Anxiety Can Cause Chest Pain That Feels Severe

How Does Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

When someone experiences intense anxiety, like a panic attack, they can hyperventilate, which leads to a fight or flight response. Hyperventilation rapidly increases the oxygen and lowers the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood, causing your body to go into fight or flight, which is responsible for the anxiety symptoms you may experience during a panic attack. These anxiety symptoms include chest pain, increased heart rate and blood pressure, heart palpitations, dizziness, muscle tension, lightheadedness, bloating, and confusion.

Chest pain related to anxiety feels different for everyone. People who experience anxiety chest pain may experience burning, a dull ache, burning, muscle spasms, or sharp shooting pains. Chest pain with anxiety is common.

In fact, one study showed that as many as 77% of people who experienced a panic attack 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 a heart attack. Like panic attacks, heart attacks have symptoms like chest pain. It can be challenging to tell the difference 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’s important to seek medical attention.    

How Do I Prevent Chest Pain During An Anxiety Attack?

It may take several minutes for your body to return to normal after experiencing a panic attack, which is an uncomfortably long time. Knowing strategies to help ease chest pain from anxiety will help prepare you for the next time you experience a panic attack. This doesn’t mean learning how to prevent a panic attack, but if you can lessen the severity of the attack, you may alleviate the chest pain.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stopping a panic attack or coping with a panic disorder, but there are coping techniques you can do to help make them shorter and milder. Here are three things to try.

  • Prepare a script of positive thoughts. During a panic attack, your mind may race with negative thoughts likely to fuel it and worsen it. By preparing a list of positive things, you can counter the negative thoughts and try to stop your panic attack before it escalates. 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, hyperventilation is responsible for many of the physical symptoms you 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. Take slow, deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. The hand on your stomach should move while you’re breathing, and the one on your chest should stay still. Continue deep breathing until you calm down. 
  • Distract yourself. Focusing on your negative thoughts during a panic attack can make it worse, so find something to distract yourself with when you feel anxious. Try petting your cat or dog, calling a friend who is good at calming you down, singing or humming your favorite song, or going for a run.

Anxiety Can Cause Chest Pain That Feels Severe

Learn How To Address Your Symptoms

If you have severe anxiety that leads to panic attacks and anxiety chest pains, speaking with a licensed mental health professional can 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 has many benefits, especially for people dealing 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 need.

In addition to being convenient, studies show online therapy is effective for treating many conditions, including general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorders. If you’re interested in online treatment, reach out to a BetterHelp therapist to learn more.

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Anxiety chest pain can be terrifying, but there are some things you can do to manage a panic attack. Positive thinking, deep breathing, getting enough sleep, and distracting yourself can help in the moment, but online therapy can help you figure out how to deal with the problems underlying your panic attacks. If you’re unsure whether your chest pain is related to anxiety, consider seeking medical attention to rule out physical causes.

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