As you may already know (or have read in the Causes of Anxiety section) raised negative arousal switches on the survival instinct and gives you a startle warning. For most people the startle warning is felt by a very brief gripping action in your chest, as if something has just wrapped a hand around your heart and given it a little squeeze.
This sensation makes some people focus on their heart. Very often these are those same people who worry about one day having a heart attack. This may be because they have already had heart problems, or simply because they have someone in the family who has had a heart attack and they fear the same will happen to them.
Please note: chest pains can also be a symptom of anxiety although this is by no means always the cause of them. They can also be due to various physical causes and you must always get checked out by your doctor before assuming that they are due to anxiety.
Once we link fear with any particular symptom in our bodies, the survival instinct will link the two and then whenever that part of the body feels bad in any way, your survival instinct will start to warn you that there's danger.
After your brain decides to help out by giving you danger warnings every time you get any slight discomfort in your chest, you are going to start believing it's serious every time it happens. You are then going to start getting increasingly anxious as it stays there.
When we get anxious, when we are getting danger signals and the survival instinct kicks in thinking it must save us, the heart will beat faster. Normally for the fight or flight response to happen, the heart MUST beat faster to get you ready to run like hell. Other muscles tense up ready for action too. This also makes chest muscles tense...
And this tends to make the person even more convinced that a heart attack could be happening.
When people get pain in the chest during severe anxiety it's usually because they have unwittingly learnt to associate that particular area with fear - as shown above.
This reaction CAN be unlearnt but you must first be absolutely certain, by consulting your doctor, that you do not have a heart condition which is causing it before assuming it's anxiety.
Since people who experience this symptom often fail to be reassured that it is just anxiety and that they are not about to die, it is quite difficult for a sufferer to adopt any response to the symptom of chest pains other than fear. In addition. if one day they were really having a heart attack it wouldn't be wise for them to dismiss it as anxiety!
For this reason, chest pains are one of those symptoms of anxiety which are best addressed with a broader approach. By this I mean that it is better to look at the person's overall anxiety tendencies and their responses to life and to teach them how to change these bit by bit.
In doing so they will become more aware of those times when they are starting to feel uneasy and take appropriate action. In this way, over time, they can hopefully avoid the occurrence of chest pains due to anxiety happening in the first place.
To learn more about how to go about unlearning chest pains caused by anxiety in this way go to the section about overcoming anxiety the Feelgood Way.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety