Tightness in Chest With Anxiety

This condition often ensues after a person is affected by a panic attack. However, chest tightness can still afflict those with only mid-level anxiety. Due to similar sensations, one may confuse anxiety-related chest tightness with the onset of heart attack. In general, chest tightness caused by anxiety is less suffocating than heart attack. People often describe chest tightness as pressure or compression feeling on their chest cavity area, that is accompanied with shortness of breath and faster heart beat. It is often triggered by the fear of an impending or unknown danger.

Sufferers are often concerned that they have early symptoms of heart attack. In reality there is a significant difference in the intensity throughout the episodes. Chest tightness is definitely less severe although sufferers can still be rushed to the hospital. It is likely that when they arrive at the ER, the symptoms mostly already subside. It is important to distinguish between the two conditions to prevent misdiagnosis and allow the sufferer to deal with their anxiety sooner and more effectively. Heart attack, on the other hand, feels more like a squeezing and crushing sensation in the chest, which is completely different with normal chest tightness. On people with heart attack, the pain spreads quickly to the shoulders, neck and jaw. People with panic attack don’t experience this symptom.

How Tightness in the Chest Happens

Panic attack starts at the central nervous system when people sense the imminent arrival of a threat (whether real or imagined) and enter the fight-or-flight response. When our body experiences this response, the tightness happens because our mind perceives a threat and tends to exaggerate the threat level, causing a fight-or-flight response even when the stressors are insignificant. If this is the case, you should immediately seek assistance for a professional to treat your panic attacks. Tightness in your chest can last for the duration of the anxiety attack episode or goes at intervals. On more severe cases, the pain may be similar to being pierced or stabbed in the chest. It travels to esophagus and can get worse if you lie on your back.

The fight-or-flight response is one of our most primitive emotional reflexes, when we perceive threat and danger. It is literally our body’s way of preparing for a fight or flees the dangerous situation to save our life. When the reflex is triggered, a corresponding biological reaction occurs. Adrenaline, noadrenaline and cortisol are released into your blood stream. When these juices completely spread through your system, you’ll start to feel your heart pounding; you’ll shake, the chest tightens and the heart flutters irregularly, a completely terrifying experience.

A panicked individual also have higher level of epinephrine and norepinephrine on the brain, both control the rate of brain functions. Both chemicals can put your brain to an overdrive and you may end up feeling disoriented. In more severe cases, people can suddenly burst into a maniacal episode and have frantic reactions.

To better understand your chest tightness, you should know the extent of your anxiety. Anxiety is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s important for personal self-defense and to help us improve ourselves despite the adversity. Try to correlate the actual threat and your anxiety level, panic attack should normally happen when the threat can endanger your life or make significant, unfavorable changes in your life. If you have chest tightness after experiencing low- or medium-intensity then you should see a therapist to help you understand your situation better.


Obviously the best cure for any disease is still prevention. People who suffer from tightness in the chest from anxiety should rationalize their fears and try to control their predicament. By understanding the real cause of your anxiety, you can seek prompt treatment to regain your normal life and free yourself from uncomfortable emotional and physical discomforts. These are a few things you should do to prevent severe anxiety and panic attacks:

Learn More About Anxiety

You should understand how anxiety can affect your body, mind and well being. Find out what anxiety is really about.

Avoid Stressors

Don’t put yourself in situations that can easily trigger panic attacks, like speaking in the public, simply say ‘no’ to invitations that make you feel unpleasant. Some people may stress you out, so you need to avoid them. Don’t accept additional works or say ‘yes’ to everything if they can add up your mental pressure.

Learn How to Become Assertive

People with panic attacks are usually have low self-esteem. If you are passive and feel worthless, then you’re opening yourself to symptoms of depressions. You can lean to become assertive by joining clubs or groups, so you can open up to others. This may take awhile, but once you become more assertive, you can have better outlook in life and can work more effectively to prevent anxiety.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

By performing yoga, meditation and other exercises regularly you can prevent panic attacks better. Those who are adept at these exercises often have uplifted emotions, self control and better happiness, which increase self-esteem and self-confidence.


Regular physical exercise can benefit both your body and mind. It is also a proven method to prevent or at least lessen anxiety attacks. You should exercise 30 minutes a day, 4 or 5 times a week. This is a moderate intensity to promote healthy mind and body. Increase exercise intensity, if possible, to gain more benefits.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Just like regular exercise, you should have a healthy, balanced diet to maintain a low stress level and prevent illness. Eat only home-cooked organic foods, if possible, as processed foods often contain preservatives, artificial coloring, taste enhancers and other chemicals.

Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine

A combination of coffee and cigarette can intensify anxiety attacks on some people. Avoid them whenever possible.


Relaxation exercises are the most common treatment for chest tightness. If you begin to tightness on the chest, sit down and breathe deeply through your nostril. You should focus on your breath, not the threat nor the discomfort on your chest.

Inhale slowly for 5 seconds (or counts) and exhale slowly for 2 seconds. Inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. Inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds. Do it until you exhale very slowly for 12 seconds. The whole breathing exercise is consisted of six cycles and at the last cycle you’ll be much more relaxed. This method should be your first line of defense in dealing with chest tightness that comes with anxiety.

You should try to relax your muscles while being affected by a panic attack and your sitting position should remain neutral. Focus on each of your muscle group. Tense a muscle, hold it for five seconds and then relax. You should start from your lower extremities and work your way up until you reach the facial muscles. When performed after the above breathing exercise, the muscle relaxation method can be very effective in eliminating your chest tightness.

Your inner dialogue during a panic attack episode determines the progression of your condition, whether you’ll calm down or become more panicked. Controlling your inner dialogue can be challenging, for example, you may aggravate your panic attack by worrying about heart attack. This is the primary reason why chest tightness sufferers are sent to the ER, as the paramedic can’t diagnose your condition on the spot. Always make a conscious effort to assure yourself that you’re going to be alright.

Your doctor may prescribe some medication to curb your chest tightness symptoms. Inhalers are often used as an early, quick treatment when the sufferer feels the tightness symptoms coming on. If the above exercises can’t help you, the doctor may prescribe some medications to suppress anxiety symptoms.


  1. Hi my name is Kristian. I've been having panic attacks for the last 2 weeks in a row I have been trying to find answers on how to stop them and this article completely help me. I've never tried these exercises. I've done the usual like drink cold water inhale and exhale, put my head between my legs and breathe but this is something I will probably do when I have them thank you so much!

  2. With the 2010 decision by the Australian government to restrict doctors prescribing medications the criminals can use my medications for pain anxiety sleep loss have been denied me without alternatives. Doctors refuse to treat me. My own doctor of 30 years retired and I am forced to use deleterious substitutes. The fears I have been suffering are alleviated by the information here. Not managed, alleviated. Thank you!

  3. It'd be helpful to do some homework and provide a citation on the supposed correlation between self-esteem and anxiety – I don't believe that this is correct and also there is no definitive diagnostic criteria for it. Oh, also the sentence needs to be edited. Good info on the breathing exercise though. Thanks.

  4. I agree generally with this article and controlled breathing and relaxation are important to learn in controlling panic attacks or anxiety. But, generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks are not always, or even usually "triggered" by an immediately obvious threat, whether it is real or imagined. The disconcerting part of both are that sufferers often cannot easily identify what caused the attack or brought about their overwhelming feelings of anxiety. It often takes some time in therapy to uncover the basis for a person's panic attacks and anxiety. I have had clients that are triggered into a panic attack just because they are afraid of having one.

  5. I like this remedy as it can be done anywhere and without any equipment.

  6. Good info.

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