Tightening in the ribs or pain in the chest can be a worrying symptom to experience – after all it houses some of our most vital organs – but it’s not necessarily an indicator of something serious. Chest tightness, much like rib tightness, can be linked to anxiety.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Cause Chest Tightness?
When our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode, our muscles tighten and contract, as if they’re getting ready to flee or strike out at a perceived threat. This isn’t just our legs or back muscles that do this, it’s all of them, including the ones around our chest, which is why it can feel tight and constricted.
Also when we’re in this survival mode, our body becomes hypersensitive to its surroundings and the processes going on within the body, so any slight change or discomfort is likely to be noticed and amplified.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our muscles to loosen and relax.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.