Anxiety comes in many forms, from mild to severe. For many people it is a fleeting sensation of fear or worry that occurs around the time of a specific event, such as a driving test or interview. It is a common feeling that everyone will experience throughout their life. However, for some people, it is a real challenge to be able to control these worries and they are plagued by feelings of anxiety on a daily basis.
It can affect their lives in multiple ways and will leave them feeling constantly like they're in a state of flight or fight. It can be hard for them to relax and is considered to be a long-term condition. It is referred to as 'generalized anxiety disorder', which may also involve feelings such as 'social anxiety disorder', 'post-traumatic stress disorder' and 'post-traumatic stress disorder'.
It isn't necessarily triggered by a specific event, although some people can identify potential reasons why they may have developed anxiety.
Anxiety can often be responsible for the feeling of a tight chest. This may feel like pressure to a specific area, a gripping feeling, muscle tension, burning, numbness, general uneasiness, a stabbing pain, or a fullness in the chest area. This may occur in just one spot or across various parts of the chest. It may also extend into feelings across the shoulders, rib cage, abdomen, neck, back, and head.
There's no hard-and-fast rule for how frequently chest tightness will occur. It can sometimes feel worse after eating, or when doing exercise. It may be rare, frequent or persistent. It may also be a dull pain, sharp pain, stabbing pain or persistent tightness or pressure. It may occur by itself seemingly out of the blue, or at the same time as other common anxiety symptoms, or during periods of elevated stress, nervousness or fear.
Even in just one person, it can vary depending on the time and day it is felt. It can often be misconstrued as being a sign of heart problems or a heart attack, and this can cause the feeling of anxiety to become even more pronounced. This can feel very frightening but often becomes a catch-22 situation, as the anxiety can then lead to further tightening of the chest.
Chest tightness is caused by the body's stress response, which helps to prepare the body to act immediately when it is in danger. It dates back to our prehistoric days as cavemen. However, this can feel completely out-of-place in modern society when you're sat on the couch and have no reason to feel anxious or threatened. It's often known as "flight or fight", and this can lead to the muscles in the chest starting to contract and tighten, which is meant to stop the body coming to any harm.
Due to the large number of muscles in the chest area, this can lead to it feeling very pronounced across this part of the body. With fluctuations in our anxiety levels, these chest pains will also change. When this chest tightness occurs and people become anxious about it, this can increase the stress response and cause the muscles to contract even more. Alongside other anxiety symptoms such as sweating, light-headedness or palpitations, this can become very frightening.
By calming yourself down and aiming to dull the active stress response, this can help to bring about an end to the problems. This may take up to 20 minutes or longer for your body to properly recover from a major stress response. It is normal though and isn't cause for concern. It may take even longer for your body if you are consistently in a place of elevated stress.
If you are concerned, it is always worth seeking support from your doctor who will be able to discuss your symptoms and conclude whether they are anxiety-based or if there is an underlying medical condition. Often doctors can easily spot the difference.
If you experience the tightness in your chest alongside difficulty breathing, it lasts longer than 15 minutes, spreads to other areas of your body such as your arms or back, feels heavy and tight, and comes alongside symptoms such as nausea, coughing up blood, or blacking out, you should seek emergency care. If you have high blood pressure or are at risk of coronary heart disease, you should also seek help.
If it resolves itself quickly, it may be more appropriate to book an appointment with your doctor.