Chest pain is frightening because it can mean a heart attack or other physical problem. Fortunately, it doesn't always mean you have a serious health condition. You may just be under too much emotional stress, and your mental state is manifesting itself physically. Many times, the pain will relieve itself when you treat the underlying emotional cause.
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Chest pain has physical causes like angina and other heart problems or illnesses, but Swedish nurse and researcher Annika Janson Fagring states on the Science Daily website that there are several emotional causes. Chest pain in an otherwise healthy person may be triggered by stress, she explains. She found it can result from other stress-related emotional issues like anxiety and depression. Men were more likely to have chest pain directly tied to life or work stress, while anxiety and depression were more common causes for women.
Stress and anxiety have other physical effects beyond chest pain. They can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, muscle tension, fast heartbeat and stomach problems, according to the Help Guide mental health resource. Some of these symptoms are also related to heart problems, so a doctor may need to evaluate the situation. Health Guide also warns chronic stress can eventually lead to a heart attack or other serious problems like high blood pressure or strokes.
The Mayo Clinic cites many physical causes other than stress or heart problems that may be behind chest pain. They include heartburn, gastric reflux, hernias, gallbladder or pancreas issues, muscle or rib injuries, pulmonary embolisms and other lung problems. It can be difficult to distinguish emotionally triggered chest pain from these conditions. Consider your risk factors and other physical symptoms you are experiencing that could mean an illness or injury. Talk to your doctor if there is any possibility of a physical cause. Otherwise, your condition might worsen if you chalk the pain up to stress for many weeks or months.
Your chest pain should stop when you treat your emotional stress. Help Guide recommends cutting your home and work schedules down to a manageable level, prioritizing your time and setting aside time for relaxation. Stress reduction activities can include meditation, yoga or other exercise, talking to friends and coworkers and scheduling social time. Help Guide also advises being aware of negative thoughts and consciously changing them.
You may not be able to handle emotional stress on your own. It will harm you physically if it continues for the long term. Help Guide warns it can impede immunity, interfere with sleep, cause generalized pain and skin problems like eczema and eventually push you into depression. Talk to a professional counselor or doctor if your self-help efforts don't work. You may need counseling or anti-anxiety medication to get your stress under proper control.