How to Relieve Chest Pain From Stress & Anxiety – A Comprehensive Guide by CARE

Did you currently experience chest pain and suspect it stems from stress? In the fast-paced rhythm of our daily lives, stress has become a ubiquitous and prevalent presence for many, and its impact on our well-being can be profound. One of the tangible and often disconcerting manifestations of stress is chest pain. In this in-depth guide, CARE delves into the intricacies of how stress can induce chest pain. We will explore the connection between stress, anxiety and chest pain, effective strategies to find pain relief, and crucial differentiators between stress-induced chest pain and a heart attack.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in General Health
10 min read · Jan 18, 2024

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Before you read this article any further, we urge you to seek medical care straight away if your chest pain is accompanied by any of these symptoms: pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back, weakness, a feeling of lightheadedness, shortness of breath and cold sweat. Please call an ambulance and get to the emergency department or emergency room, as these are typical symptoms of a heart attack.

If you think your chest pain is caused by stress, we will now explore why and how this occurs. Most importantly of all, we will give you tips on how to get relief from your chest pain now and how you can avoid it in the future, hopefully altogether.

So, how and why does chest pain from stress even occur?

Non-cardiac chest pain that is caused by stress is a multifaceted phenomenon intricately linked to your body's physiological response to stressors. [1] When faced with stress, your body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, triggering a cascade of reactions designed to prepare for a fight-or-flight response. These physiological changes can lead to muscle tension, including in the chest area, as your body readies itself for potential physical exertion.

Additionally, stress-induced hyperventilation is a common occurrence for people who suffer from anxiety disorders, which are also stress-related. Hyperventilation leads to a decrease in carbon dioxide levels in your blood. This can also result in a sensation of chest tightness or discomfort, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. [2]

The intricate interplay of all these factors contributes to the manifestation of chest pain during periods of stress and anxiety.

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Chest Pain?

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Yes, absolutely. Stress and anxiety are prominent culprits in the onset of chest pain. Anxiety, characterized by excessive worry and heightened arousal, forms of stress, can lead to a range of physical symptoms, including chest tightness, palpitations, and shortness of breath. [3]

Stress and anxiety contribute to the release of stress hormones, impacting the cardiovascular system and intensifying muscle tension, both of which can contribute to chest discomfort. [1] [3]

Moreover, individuals with pre-existing conditions such as an anxiety disorder (panic attacks) may experience more pronounced chest pain during episodes of heightened stress or severe anxiety. Anxiety chest pain, including during anxiety attacks, often presents as a tight or sharp sensation, exacerbated during periods of heightened emotional stress. [3]

It's essential to recognize the interconnectedness of mental stress and physical health and acknowledge the potential for stress and anxiety to manifest as chest pain.

The symptoms of stress-induced chest pain often correlate with the symptoms of anxiety or those one experiences during an isolated panic attack.

Below, CARE has summarized some common symptoms that typically accompany chest pain caused by stress. [1]

Symptoms of Stress-Induced Chest Pain

🤕 Chest Discomfort: Dull, achy, or tight sensation in the chest.

🤔 Pressure or Squeezing Sensation: Feeling of pressure or squeezing in the chest.

❤️ Palpitations: Increased heart rate or palpitations.

🤢 Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Indigestion, heartburn, or nausea.

💪 Muscle Tension: Stress-related muscle tension contributing to chest discomfort.

🌧️ Sweating: Clamminess or sweating during episodes.

😴 Fatigue:  Feelings of fatigue and physical exhaustion.

😟 Anxiety and Restlessness: Heightened anxiety or restlessness.

🛌 Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia or poor-quality sleep.

🤕 Headaches: Stress-induced headaches.

🤔 Difficulty Concentrating: Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

😠 Increased Irritability: Heightened irritability or mood swings.

How to Relieve Chest Pain From Stress?

If you ask yourself how to relieve chest pain from anxiety and stress, we have a few recommendations for you.

Managing and relieving chest pain from stress involves adopting a multifaceted approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of stress. These are effective strategies to relieve chest pain from stress: [4]

  • Deep Breathing: Take deep breaths to counteract hyperventilation and promote relaxation. Techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing can help regulate breathing patterns and reduce chest tension.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: By incorporating mindfulness practices and meditation into your lifestyle, you cultivate a calmer mental state, which can prevent stress-induced chest pain in the future. Journaling, yoga, and other wellness techniques can be great tools to reduce stress and, consequently, stress-induced chest pain. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and alleviate physical symptoms associated with anxiety, including chest pain. [5]
  • Physical Activity: Regular exercise is a powerful stress reducer. Engaging in activities like walking, jogging, or yoga not only promotes physical well-being but also enhances mental resilience, reducing the likelihood of stress-induced chest pain. [4]
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Consider therapy, particularly CBT, which focuses on identifying and altering thought patterns contributing to stress and anxiety. CBT has proven effective in managing symptoms and preventing their recurrence. [6]
  • Stress Management Techniques: Adopt stress management techniques such as counting, time management, setting realistic goals, and learning to prioritize your mental health. Creating a balanced and healthy lifestyle that includes periods of relaxation and recreation is crucial for long-term stress reduction. [7]

What Is the Difference Between Chest Pain From Stress and That of a Heart Attack?

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It is crucial that you are able to differentiate between stress-induced chest pain and a potential cardiac event.

Chest pain from a heart attack is typically sudden and intense. Heart attack symptoms may involve crushing sensations, while anxiety-related chest pain and chest pain from stress are often characterized by a dull, achy, or tight sensation associated with emotional stress or tension.

Heart attack pain tends to be more persistent and can be accompanied by additional symptoms.

If you are unsure if you experience a heart attack or a stress-induced chest pain, seek medical attention immediately.

For your convenience, CARE has summarized some of the main differences between chest pain from stress and chest pain from a heart attack below: [8]

Chest Pain From Stress/Anxiety

  • Discomfort Characteristics: Dull, achy, or tight sensation in the chest.
  • Duration: Tends to gradually subside.
  • Triggers: Panic attacks can also occur while you rest. Triggered by stress, anxiety, or tension.
  • Other Symptoms: May include muscle tension, sweating, fatigue, and more.

Heart Attack Chest Pain

  • Discomfort Characteristics: Sudden, intense discomfort, often described as squeezing/pressuring pain.
  • Duration: Can be persistent and get worse over time.
  • Triggers: Often develops during physical exertion, emotional stress, or anxiety.
  • Other Symptoms: May be accompanied by other physical or emotional signs and symptoms.

How Long Does Stress-Induced Chest Pain Typically Last?

The duration of stress-induced chest pain is short-term, and the pain should subside gradually. [8] Still, the duration can vary widely based on individual factors and your underlying causes of stress. In numerous instances, with the adoption of stress management techniques and lifestyle adjustments, your symptoms can be alleviated within minutes.

However, chronic stress may lead to more persistent chest discomfort. Moreover, please be aware that chest pain caused by stress can be an indicator of coronary diseases or indicate a higher risk for heart disease. [9]

How Can I Avoid Stress-Induced Chest Pain? — 13 Tips

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Do you ask yourself how to reduce chest pain from anxiety or stress? Avoiding stress-induced chest pain involves adopting a holistic approach that addresses both your physical and mental well-being.

CARE has curated a comprehensive list of actions to mitigate stress and reduce the risk of stress-induced chest pain:

  1. Stress Management Techniques: Practice mindfulness and meditation to cultivate a calm and centered mental state, reducing the impact of stress and stressors. Your mental health has a great impact on your physical well-being. [5]
  2. Deep Breathing Exercises: Engage in deep breathing exercises to regulate breathing patterns and promote relaxation. [4]
  3. Regular Exercise: Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine, such as walking, jogging, swimming, or yoga. Exercise not only reduces stress but also enhances overall cardiovascular health. [5]
  4. Healthy Diet: Consume a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar intake, as they can contribute to increased stress levels. [7]
  5. Adequate Sleep: Prioritize good sleep hygiene by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring a comfortable sleep environment and enough sleep. [7]
  6. Limit Alcohol and Nicotine Intake: Reduce or eliminate alcohol and nicotine consumption, as both substances can contribute to increased stress levels and negatively impact cardiovascular health. [7]
  7. Time Management: Develop effective time management skills to prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and avoid unnecessary stressors due to bad time management. Break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and be realistic with what you can accomplish.
  8. Establish Boundaries: Learn to say no when necessary and establish clear boundaries in both personal and professional relationships. Avoid overcommitting or people-please, which can lead to increased stress. [10]
  9. Social Support: Cultivate a strong support system by nurturing relationships with friends, family, or support groups. Sharing concerns and seeking emotional support can help alleviate stress.
  10. Create a Relaxing Environment: Designate a space at home or work for relaxation or create a designated safe space. Surround yourself with calming elements such as plants, soothing colors, or ambient sounds.
  11. Limit Screen Time: Reduce exposure to screens, especially before bedtime. Excessive screen time can contribute to heightened stress levels or make it harder for you to relax after a stressful event. [11]
  12. Hobbies and Leisure Activities: Engage in hobbies and activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Whether it's reading, gardening, or pursuing your creative endeavors, having personal outlets is crucial for stress relief.
  13. Regular Health Check-ups: Schedule regular health check-ups to monitor and manage any underlying health conditions. With your CARE membership, you can detect changes in your body early on. Addressing potential health concerns proactively can contribute to stress reduction.

By incorporating some of these lifestyle changes and stress management strategies, you can create a foundation for your overall well-being and significantly reduce the risk of stress-induced chest pain.

When Should I See A Doctor For Chest Pain?

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While stress-induced chest pain is often benign and gradually subsides, certain scenarios warrant prompt medical attention as they indicate a cardiac event rather than anxiety or stress-induced chest pain:

  • Sudden Onset or Intensity: If chest pain is sudden, severe, or accompanied by a crushing sensation or radiating pain, seek immediate medical help, as these could be indicative of a heart attack. [8]
  • Prolonged or Recurrent Symptoms: If your chest pain persists for an extended period, recurs frequently, or is not alleviated by stress management strategies, seek medical attention.
  • Additional Symptoms: Seek medical attention if your chest pain is accompanied by common symptoms of a heart attack, such as shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, or pain radiating to the arm, jaw, or back, as these could be signs of a cardiac event.
  • Known Cardiovascular Risk Factors: If you do know that you have cardiovascular risk factors, such as a history of heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension, you should be particularly vigilant and consult a healthcare provider promptly when you experience any type of chest pain. You should rather be safe than sorry!

If you would like to optimize your well-being and fitness to make sure that you age gracefully and stay fit and healthy, becoming a member of CARE can be the first step in your health journey. Through our comprehensive health assessments and in-depth blood analysis, we can take a look at different biomarkers in your blood that indicate potential health gaps or can even detect changes in your body to prevent potential diseases early on. Other than common healthcare providers, we ensure to take the time to explain your health check-up results to you in-detail and with personal attention to your individual health goals.

Are you ready to become the healthiest version of yourself? Then let’s get in touch.

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Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!