How to Relieve Chest Tightness from Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

How to Relieve Chest Tightness from Anxiety

Chest tightness is arguably one of the most frightening anxiety symptoms. While anxiety causes a variety of physical manifestations, chest tightness is the one that is associated with the most alarming health conditions, including heart attacks and stroke.

It is very possible for chest tightness to be a symptom of many cardiac conditions, and experiencing chest tightness can often lead to further anxiety. Yet in some cases chest tightness is a result of anxiety, especially if you suffer from anxiety attacks frequently. 

Frightening Symptoms of Anxiety

Chest tightness is an anxiety symptom that often causes a severe amount of distress. This is often because chest tightness has a negative connotation for being linked to severe health conditions. This can be very daunting for individuals that do not know much about the physical effects of stress and anxiety in their life. 

What Causes Chest Tightness

There is no exact explanation about what causes chest tightness in anxiety sufferers. Nevertheless, it is always advised to seek your primary care provider immediately for any sudden or worsening chest pain in order to rule out possible cardiac disease. 

By all means, do not feel as if you are bothering anyone when seeking help for chest pain. Once serious health conditions are ruled out, you can begin to tackle your anxiety-induced chest pain. 

Rest assured that anxiety commonly can cause chest tightness and chest pain for a variety of reasons, these include:

  • Hyperventilation This is one of the most common causes of chest tightness in anxiety sufferers. Hyperventilation is a secondary condition with anxiety, and is due to rapid breathing in response to a stressful situation. It results in your body taking shorter, shallower breaths that do not allow you to maintain the necessary levels of carbon dioxide in your blood that is needed for proper ventilation. As a result, hyperventilation can cause a squeezing sensation around or near the heart as your breathing worsens. 
  • Bloating/Gas/Heartburn Anxiety and stress have a profound effect on digestion, because stress from anxiety puts undue pressures on your gut that can alter your normal digestive pattern. That pressure can lead to bloating; in some people, bloating tends to present with chest pressure that can often be misinterpreted as chest pain and/or tightness. Your chest is not tighter in any way, but the experience may subjectively feel like tightness. Heartburn is often classified as chest tightness, when in actuality it is an irritation of your lower esophagus by stomach acid. It too, does not cause true chest tightness. 
  • Muscle strain In some cases, people experience muscle strain or chest wall pain that can give the sensation of chest tightness, but it is actually musculoskeletal. Anxiety can exacerbate this discomfort and cause it to feel like chest tightness. 

Chest tightness occurs most often right before or during an anxiety attack. It may also present spontaneously with no anxiety at all, in what is known as a limited symptom panic attack.

Rest assured that chest discomfort caused by anxiety is usually harmless.

How You Can Tell if You are Suffering From Anxiety Related Chest Tightness

The easiest way to determine if you are suffering from anxiety-induced chest tightness is by ruling out any cardiac or lung related disease. Only a physician can rule these out completely. 

There are a few signs that can be helpful in determining if your chest tightness is cardiac related. This is by no means an all-inclusive list; and when in doubt, please visit your primary care physician instead. Generally, the following is more likely to be of anxiety related chest tightness and/or pressure: 

  • It is less likely to radiate towards the back, arms, or shoulders.
  • It is more likely to occur with other anxiety symptoms.
  • It tends to last less than 10 minutes.

Again, chest pain that abides by these suggestions does not rule out any cardiac or pulmonary causes. Also, women, diabetics, and the elderly often present with chest pain that is atypical of traditional cardiac chest tightness. So if you are one of the included groups with new onset chest pressure and/or tightness, it is best to see a physician first. 

Anxiety attacks have a "peak" time, and that tends to be when chest pressure is at its worst. Cardiac chest pressure, on the other hand, is more likely to last longer than 15 minutes, radiate, not be relieved with resolution of anxiety, be associated with shortness of breath, etc. 

Ways to Reduce Chest Pressure

When you are experiencing chest pressure and/or tightness, the key is to try to figure out the potential causes of chest tightness. Once deemed to be from anxiety, the next goal is to stop the causes of the symptoms. For example:

  • Hyperventilation - Try to get your breathing under control by taking slower, deeper breaths and not trying to "over-breathe" or breathe too fast. The experience of hyperventilation may feel as though you’re not getting enough air, but hyperventilation occurs when you have expelled more CO2 than you make, so breathing slower helps to rebuild those CO2 levels. 
  • Bloating/Heartburn -  If you can potentially reduce/prevent any gas, do so. You may also want to consider taking an antacid or drinking water, which may help with bloating or heartburn. Heartburn can be improved by eating slower, decreasing the amount of spicy foods consumed, and staying upright for at least 30 minutes after eating. Also, avoid heartburn inducing foods like peppermint, chocolate, coffee or caffeinated beverages, tomatoes, alcohol, and citrus foods. 
  • Muscle Strain -  Be mindful of lifting or carrying items that are too heavy. Make sure to stretch and warm up muscles before doing any strenuous activities. 

These are only temporary fixes. Remember that your chest pressure and/or tightness is often related to some type of anxiety issue or anxiety disorder. That means that the only way to prevent chest pressure from returning is to learn to manage your anxiety.

Yet before you can do that, you need to make sure that you know what type of anxiety you are suffering from and what symptoms may be the result of it.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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