Can Anxiety Cause Chest Pain? - Is There a Link?

Have you ever felt an unexpected, sharp pain in your chest and wondered if it was more than just a random discomfort? Could it be your heart? Or could it be anxiety? You’re not alone. Millions around the world have experienced this conundrum, and it’s important to understand the link between anxiety and chest pain.

Persistant chest pains, coupled with other symptoms, may be the sign that your or a loved one should seek anxiety treatment. We’ll cover if its a good idea to look for a treatment center, and what steps to take, in this article.

The Link Between Anxiety and Chest Pain

Understanding Anxiety

In its simplest definition, anxiety refers to the body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear, unease, or apprehension, often about future events or circumstances with uncertain outcomes.

However, anxiety extends beyond just being a temporary fear or worry. For many people, it becomes a chronic condition that significantly impacts their daily lives.

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by excessive and prolonged feelings of anxiety and fear. They’re among the most common mental health conditions globally. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and social anxiety disorder, each presenting with distinct symptoms and triggers.

How Anxiety Can Cause Chest Pain

Our bodies are equipped with a powerful survival instinct known as the “fight or flight” response. This ancient mechanism, designed to protect us from threats in the wild, gets triggered in situations of high anxiety, perceived danger or extreme stress. When activated, it results in a cascade of physiological changes aimed at preparing the body for immediate action.

When your brain perceives a threat, it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, your brain’s command center. This in turn communicates with the rest of your body through the nervous system so that you can respond appropriately to the threat. The adrenal glands are stimulated to produce adrenaline (epinephrine), a hormone that triggers several changes in your body: your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises, your senses become sharper, and your muscles tighten, preparing you for either fight or flight.

Among these changes, the increased heart rate and tightened chest muscles can lead to sensations of chest pain or discomfort. Additionally, the heightened sense of awareness can make you more sensitive to this discomfort, and this, coupled with the fear of a perceived threat, can amplify the sensation of chest pain.

Another aspect is hyperventilation. During an anxiety attack, you may start to breathe rapidly. This is a part of the fight or flight response, ensuring your muscles have enough oxygen for action. However, this can lead to an imbalance in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body, causing chest tightness, shortness of breath, and consequently, chest pain.

In short, the chest pain you experience during periods of intense anxiety is a physical manifestation of your body’s natural response to stress or danger. It’s not harmful itself but can feel quite disturbing and even mimic the symptoms of heart ailments, leading to further anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that can be tough to break without the right coping mechanisms or professional help.

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Symptoms of Anxiety Including Chest Pains

Physical Symptoms

Anxiety-induced chest pain may come with a number of physical signs, including:

  • Sharp, stabbing pains or a dull ache in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Psychological Symptoms

On the psychological side, anxiety can manifest itself in several ways:

  • Excessive worry
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of dread or impending doom
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue

Differences Between Anxiety-Induced Chest Pain and Heart-Related Chest Pain

Understanding the difference between anxiety-induced chest pain and heart-related chest pain is vital. While the symptoms can overlap, there are distinguishing characteristics that can help identify the possible cause.

Anxiety-Induced Chest Pain

Anxiety-induced chest pain often arises suddenly in response to a perceived threat or during periods of intense worry or stress. It’s often described as:

  • Sharp and stabbing, or a constant dull ache.
  • Located anywhere in the chest, not necessarily on the left side.
  • Accompanied by other anxiety symptoms such as breathlessness, rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, and sensations of panic or dread.
  • Changing with different body positions or deep breathing.
  • Possibly lasting for a few minutes or several hours, but it typically doesn’t persist for days.

Heart-Related Chest Pain

Chest pain associated with heart conditions—most notably, angina or heart attack—has its own distinctive features:

  • Often described as a crushing or heavy pressure sensation, like an elephant sitting on the chest.
  • Typically located on the left side or center of the chest, and it can radiate to the left arm, jaw, back, or neck.
  • Accompanied by other cardiovascular symptoms such as breathlessness, nausea, lightheadedness, and cold sweats.
  • Tends to worsen with physical exertion and improve with rest.
  • Lasts typically for a few minutes in the case of angina. If it’s a heart attack, the pain persists longer and does not improve with rest.


It’s important to note that these are general distinctions, and chest pain can present differently in different individuals. If you experience unexplained chest pain, especially if it’s severe, persistent, or accompanied by other serious symptoms, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Don’t attempt to self-diagnose—only a healthcare professional can accurately diagnose the cause of chest pain.

Managing Chest Pain Caused by Anxiety

Breathing Techniques

Practicing deep, slow breathing can help manage chest pain caused by anxiety. This technique helps slow your heart rate and relax your muscles, offering relief from anxiety symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that can help you understand and manage your anxiety. It teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-inducing situations.


In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage severe anxiety. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new medication.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Regardless of whether you think your chest pain is anxiety-related, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention when you experience persistent chest pain. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as chest pain can also be a sign of serious conditions like heart disease.

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Fight Anxiety with Moment of Clarity

Anxiety can indeed cause chest pain, but it’s important to distinguish it from other potential causes, especially those related to the heart. If you’re experiencing chest pain accompanied by severe symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, or pain spreading to the arm, immediately seek medical help. 

Learning to manage anxiety and adopting techniques such as deep breathing and cognitive behavioral therapy can go a long way in managing and even eliminating anxiety-induced chest pain. That’s where outpatient mental health treatment can help.

Moment of Clarity is an outpatient mental health treatment facility in Santa Ana, California. We specialize in anxiety treatment and our team of trained professionals is ready to welcome you into our community.

Learn more about our different anxiety treatment options by contacting us today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Anxiety chest pain can feel like a sharp, stabbing sensation or a more persistent dull ache. It’s often accompanied by other physical symptoms like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, and nausea. Keep in mind, the sensation can vary greatly from person to person, and it might also change depending on your position or your breathing pattern.

Managing anxiety-induced chest pain involves addressing the underlying anxiety. Breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation can provide immediate relief during an episode. In the long term, cognitive behavioral therapy, lifestyle modifications (like regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet), and medication can help manage anxiety and its associated symptoms. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

While anxiety chest pain itself isn’t harmful, it can be intensely discomforting and distressing. Moreover, it can mimic symptoms of serious heart conditions, making it crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing unexplained or severe chest pain. Once serious conditions are ruled out, appropriate steps can be taken to manage anxiety.

Yes, chest pain can indeed be triggered by anxiety. This occurs due to the body’s “fight or flight” response, which can cause various physical changes, including chest pain, in response to perceived danger or stress. However, persistent chest pain should never be ignored as it can also be a sign of serious health conditions like heart disease.

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