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Anxiety May Be Causing Your Chest Pressure

Jenna Jarrold, MS, LAC, NCC
Anxiety May Be Causing Your Chest Pressure

Everyone experiences some level of stress throughout life. Yet those with anxiety are far more prone to worry and stress that can affect everyday life and overall well-being.

The ongoing and persistent stress connected to anxiety can manifest physically in various ways.  A common physical manifestation of anxiety for many is chest pressure. Chest pressure is uncomfortable on its own.  

Yet, to complicate matters, many mistake the chest pressure (resulting from anxiety) to be associated with a heart problem, such as heart disease or a heart attack. This can create a vicious cycle for those who have anxiety and experience chest pressure - the feeling of chest pressure causes more stress and worry (usually about one’s health), which contributes to increased anxiety and thus, a greater likelihood of chest pressure.  

 

Doctor First - Anxiety Treatment Second

For those with anxiety and chest pressure, it is extremely common to fear a heart problem.  Nonetheless, seeking medical attention is always recommended, to rule out the presence of any true heart issues.   

Once heart problems have been ruled out, gaining a better understanding of your anxiety, and how it contributes to chest pain and pressure is essential.  

The Feeling of Chest Pressure

Few people are taught that chest pressure can be caused by anxiety, but in reality it is one of the main symptoms of extreme anxiety and panic attacks. Not everyone experiences chest pressure or pain in the same way. Some describe the experience as a sharp, shooting pain, some report a dull pain, while others feel as though their heart is being squeezed. 

Causes of Chest Pressure From Anxiety

Knowing chest pressure and pain are common anxiety symptoms is helpful.  Yet understanding why this actually occurs can be beneficial. Anxiety causes a person's body to "over-breathe," either by breathing too quickly or breathing in more deeply than the body requires. Also known as hyperventilation, this type of breathing forces carbon dioxide out of the bloodstream, leaving the body with too much oxygen (even though it often feels as though you do not have enough).

Carbon dioxide is important to the body and blood stream. When someone hyperventilates, their blood becomes alkaline, causing blood vessels to constrict. Blood vessel constriction makes it more difficult for blood to move throughout the body and puts pressure on the heart, often causing your heart to try to compensate by beating faster. This is where most chest pressure comes from.

In addition, hyperventilation causes air to build up in the body, leading to bloating. This may also cause feelings of chest pressure.

Over-Attention to the Heart Increases Hyperventilation Risk

The more a person focuses on the way their heart “feels,” the more likely they are to experience chest pressure/pain.  With increased focus on the heart, a person may become more aware of  it’s beats and try to take deeper breaths to make sure it is working properly. These deeper breaths can end up leading to hyperventilation and chest pressure.

Essentially, the more a person with anxiety focuses on their heart, the more likely they are to fear something is wrong, and the more likely they are to have chest pressure.

Gas and Normal Chest Pressure

Of course, there could be other things contributing to an anxious person’s chest pressure and pain (not related to an underlying heart problem).  One of the most common is gas (often a result of acid reflux).  When a person is bloated or suffering from acid reflux, they may experience a excess pressure on the heart.  This chest pressure can often be mistaken for a more serious heart problem.

How to Relieve Some of the Chest Pressure

I did some editing, but did not add content.  More ways to relieve chest pressure exist and should be added.

Depending on the cause of the chest pressure (breathing pattern, hyperfocus on the heart, or other physical ailments like gas and bloating) there are things that can be done to potentially provide some relief. 

When the chest pressure is caused by bloating due to hyperventilation, burping can relieve some of the discomfort. Also shifting positions may alleviate some pressure or at least make it easier to belch.

Those who feel as though their heart is being squeezed may need to focus on ways to reduce hyperventilation. Taking slower, more steady breaths can ease hyperventilation. 

After the chest pressure has dissolved, you'll need to make sure that you're taking steps to prevent anxiety, and ultimately prevent hyperventilation and panic attacks.

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