Many people think that anxiety is a psychological illness, but depending on the depth and severity of the anxiety you suffer it can have short and long term effects on your body which can really affect your personal well being and quality of life.
When anxious or under stress your body produces higher levels of so-called stress hormones including norepinephrine and cortisol. These hormones are designed to ready our bodies for a “fight or flight” situation, pumping up all muscles and readying us for battle.
This response has not changed since our cave dwelling days and unfortunately many of us no longer do battle with Wooly Mammoths on a regular basis. Your anxiety is unlikely to be caused by something that will disappear overnight so the stress response continues, constantly producing stress hormones until you begin to experience physical effects and illness.
Stress hormones increase blood flow to your muscles causing muscular tension which you will feel as a headache, backache or similar pain. Your heart is stimulated to beat faster and supply more Oxygen to your body which over time leads to rising blood pressure, palpitations and eventually risk of heart attack or stroke. Your digestive system suffers from fluctuating blood supply which can leave you with nausea and possibly vomiting. Bearing in mind that all of these physical effects have been positively shown to be caused by Anxiety it is not surprising that Anxiety can cause chest problems and also rib pain.
In your chest are your heart, lungs and thymus. Protecting the organs are the ribs and each of your ribs is attached to the next with a thin muscle, it is this muscle that moves when you breathe, speak or sing.
When an individual is suffering from Anxiety the stress hormones affect the intercostal muscles between the ribs just as they affect muscles in other parts of the body. This leads to increased sensitivity and when the heart rate is increased by the stress hormones the intercostal muscles are quickly stimulated into movement. The ribs are also forced to respond rapidly when Hyperventilation (fast, shallow breathing) begins. With their increased workload the intercostal muscles soon begin to build up Lactic Acid , which in turn leads to chest pain. Unfortunately the pain will remain until enough Oxygen has been taken in to break down the Lactic Acid and remove it from the muscle.
It is possible to reduce your pain, and in order to do so it is important to address the root cause of your pain. Obviously any chest pain should be investigated by a family physician. Once Anxiety has been identified as the main cause of your rib pain there are several techniques which you can use in order to improve your life.
Any physical activity that you can complete, especially those that get you out in the fresh air will boost your natural “happy” hormones (known as endorphins). When your body ups its’ production of endorphins, during and after exercise, stress and anxiety levels reduce and so do the symptoms. Don’t worry about the intensity of the exercise, it’s all about doing something that you enjoy. Fun things; dog walking, cake baking, whatever you love doing, will lower those Anxious feelings and reduce pain.
Meditation and yoga offer deep relaxation and stress relief; ideal if you suffer from Anxiety. Not only do they teach breathing exercises to calm and still the busy brain, but meditation has also been shown to assist pain reduction by increasing those “happy” hormones!
Regular activity and relaxation will improve your Anxiety associated symptoms over time with patience. For those who find it difficult to move forward from their anxiety and vertigo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be helpful. This teaches you to respond to anxiety in a different, calmer way and eventually retrains your responses to stress as a whole. Your family physician can help you with this.