Chest Pain and Anxiety (My ER Story)

Jordan Brown

This is not a medical article.

I repeat--this is not a medical article.

This is an article about the reality of anxiety and chest pains.

It's to raise awareness about something that we don't talk about enough.

It's to let you know that, if you are experiencing anxiety and chest pains, you're not alone.

Help is out there, and there are some things you need to know.

Heart Attack or Anxiety?


It's so common to feel like this when you're dealing with anxiety.


What if I told you that symptoms of anxiety can mirror symptoms of a heart attack?

Would you believe me? 

What if I told you that chest pain can be a sign of a panic attack?

Maybe you've heard that one before.

Wherever you are in your knowledge of anxiety, know this:

- Anxiety is real

-It's incredibly common

-Tons of people go to the emergency room for chest pain thinking there are having heart issues, only to discover that it was, in fact, extreme anxiety (I'm one of them, and I know SEVERAL people who also had this happen to them)

- In fact, between 18% and 25% of all patients who present to emergency departments with chest pain have PD. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

The strange thing is...if I personally know SEVERAL people who went to the ER thinking they were having a heart attack, why don't we talk about this more often?

The short answer is stigma.

The long answer is that, as a society, we think it's acceptable to talk about physical symptoms, but we view mental or emotional symptoms as signs of weakness.

It's just not right.

Yes, if you think you are having a heart attack, you NEED to get that checked out.

But people often miss the warning signs of anxiety.

In fact, of all the mental health issues people face, anxiety is often tolerated the longest before a person seeks help. We're talking 10+ years tolerated.

That's a nightmare, and it saddens me because help is available. Anxiety is treatable.

So What Does Chest Pain Mean?

Well, as I said from the start, this is not a medical article.

But it is an article with relatable information, so let me speak from my experience.

When I went to the hospital for extreme anxiety years ago, I was having chest pain, but I was also having an out-of-body kind of feeling, another common symptom of anxiety and other mental health issues.

The world felt unreal.

I could see that it was solid. I could recognize familiar shapes and figures, but the uncertainty of it all was hard to put a finger on.

I could see and hear what was in front of me, but it no longer seemed stable. It seemed like a dream world. It seemed like it might pop like a bubble if I put my hand through it.

This is anxiety.

It's a disorder. Although, I absolutely detest that term.

No person is disordered.

Everything is relative anyway, so to say that someone has a mental disorder or a physical disorder is to say that they deviate from what is normal.

Panic disorder is a term we give to a set of symptoms that deviate from some established norm. Big whoop.

But who decides what is normal? Is it a bunch of older people in lab coats? Is it your next-door neighbor? 

So, if you're experiencing ongoing chest pain like I was and you can't quite put your finger on it, it's very likely that it's anxiety.

What Do You Do If You Are Having Chest Pain That Might Be Anxiety?

You can do like I did and go right to the emergency room.

But that can be very costly, especially if all the doctors do there is prescribe you some anti-anxiety medicine.

If you're not having EXTREME symptoms such as intense arm pain or loss of feeling in your limbs, then I recommend you consider that your chest pain might be a sign of anxiety.

It might be a sign that you need to get to the root cause of what's going on.

I always recommend this, and it's why I like functional medicine so much, which actually takes time to analyze root causes.

And what I mean by root causes is this:

- Where is all of this beginning?

- Is it possible you are extremely stressed out by work or life in general?

- Have you had a major life change, such as a death in the family or a move to a new city?

- Are you about to make a major decision?

Any of these situations can be a root cause of anxiety.

What's interesting is that we are not trained to think this way, especially in the Western World.

Doctors treat your symptoms but ignore what's going on underneath.

Teachers reward you for getting the answer right but not for knowing if you should be answering that question in the first place.

And this is the great dilemma of anxiety and chest pains.

Chest pains should always be taken seriously.

But they should also be studied with an inquisitive approach.

Anxiety is incredibly common.

It's time we make it as common in our daily conversations.