Your question: Can anxiety make my chest burn?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

When you experience anxiety, a lot of annoying physical and emotional symptoms appear. Although anxiety is normal and necessary to some extent, it becomes a problem when it is too frequent and intense, to the point of diminishing people’s quality of life.

In particular, the physical symptoms of anxiety can be frightening to people, as they can be mistaken for a more serious medical problem. A particular symptom that causes discomfort and concern is the sensation of pain or burning in the chest. Anxiety is a common condition which can manifest with symptoms of chest discomfort. This sensation can manifest in many forms, from a sharp or stabbing pain to, as in your case, a slowly expanding burning sensation (1).

It is possible that if you have experienced this burning sensation in your chest during an episode of anxiety you may feel intense fear and panic imagining that it could be a major medical complication such as a heart attack. However, this is a common problem, as the correlation between anxiety problems and cardiovascular discomfort, both momentary and chronic, has been studied (2).

To address this nagging sensation and generally cope with anxiety symptoms, you need to know the source of this uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest. Your concern for your health is genuine and it is important that you consider seeing a physician if your chest burning is persistent and manifests itself even when you are not anxious.

What does chest burn feel like during anxiety?

It is possible that one of your fears related to chest burn sensation caused by anxiety is that it is a more serious medical problem, so it is important to identify the characteristics of this type of chest pain so that you feel relieved that it is not a major problem such as a heart attack, but a symptom related to anxiety.

The characteristics of anxiety-related chest burn sensation are:

  • Spasms or numbness in the chest area.
  • Accelerated heart rate.
  • Sensation of acute heat that spreads from the chest to the rest of the torso.
  • Sweating and general sensation of heat.
  • Throbbing in the chest.
  • Shortness of breath and dizziness.

Why does this sensation occur in your chest during anxiety?

What happens is that, during anxiety, your body enters a state of alertness, which not only generates intense fear or worry, but also triggers physical manifestations in your body through the release of hormones.

When you feel anxious, your body goes into a state of muscular tension, which can make you feel that some parts of your body are heavier, as well as aches or spasms. The chest burn sensation you feel when you are anxious is related to this muscle tension.

Additionally, during an episode of anxiety the body temperature rises and the skin may become red as the blood circulates through the body at a faster rate. It is normal that the feeling of heat you experience does not only stay in your chest, but affects your whole body.

How to control the chest burn sensation during anxiety?

Strategies to alleviate the burning sensation in your chest caused by anxiety should be aimed at reducing anxiety in general. It is necessary that if the burning or pain in your chest is persistent and worsens over time, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out any other medical complications.

Physical exercise

Physical activity is necessary because it allows you to train both your body and your mind. Whether in a gym, playing a sport or from the comfort of your home, physical exercise helps you release hormones and neurotransmitters related to happiness, allows you to feel more focused and helps you drain negative emotions.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This technique consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a specific moment. It is useful when you are experiencing a lot of physical agitation or you feel that you have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and find it difficult to control your emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Whether you are in your room, in a car or a public place, you can sit and practice this exercise in silence, breathing slowly as you do it as many times as you feel necessary to decrease the anxious symptoms.

Deep Breathing

There are different breathing exercises that you can use to alleviate the feeling of general anxiety and its physical symptoms. One of the most commonly used is called “4-7-8”, it consists of a deep inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds.

Another breathing exercise to relieve chest pain consists of a softer and faster six-second breath, three seconds inhaling, three seconds exhaling. As you do this, place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest, while you feel the tension in your body slowly decrease.

In my experience…

Burning sensation in the chest is a common symptom in anxiety, which hopefully worries people. Therefore, I completely understand your distress at this discomfort and your doubts as to whether it is a more serious problem. However, as long as the burning in the chest only occurs during episodes of anxiety, you can address the problem by confronting your anxiety, finding its source, and alleviating the symptoms with coping strategies and professional help in psychological therapy.

Once you learn to control your anxiety by getting to the source of your anxious thoughts, then bothersome symptoms such as chest burn and shortness of breath will diminish. It is important that you see a doctor if you feel that your problem remains persistent and intense even after applying these recommendations.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!