My Chest Pains Tied Into My Mental Health

Author: Gary Taylor, MSW, URMND Contributor

It was a May day and I was walking my dog Marley, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain shoot through my chest. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I checked my pulse for an elevated heart rate and to make sure I was still breathing. I was ok.

What just happened? It seems as if the symptoms subsided and I went into my apartment with my anxiety levels through the roof. These pains continued throughout the next week fading in and out. Finally, I told my wife and she recommended I talk to my doctor. I have a great relationship with my doctor. Communication is open and she understands my family history and my issues with high blood pressure. At this point, I had been off high blood pressure medications due to regulated diet, and exercising.

My doctor was concerned and sent me to see a cardiologist. That was probably one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I walked in and everyone was staring at me (all older adults of course). I was a bit fearful because I was the youngest one in there; even I felt the front desk staff look at me a certain way.

I shouldn’t be here.

Once in the back, they said they had to run a few tests, along with a stress test to determine how my heart was functioning. They had me run on the treadmill for about a hour, stopping me at times to check my heart rate when I sat down and rested, then jumping back on the treadmill. I felt like 50 Cent in his “In the Club” video but smaller lol. Once done I finished, and waited for the results. At this point, I realized that I needed to get a grip on my physical health.

The results came in.

I spoke to the doctor and he reported everything came back negative. He said he only saw a vessel that seemed to be smaller due to taking blood pressure medications but it was nothing to worry about. He stated that everything was fine, and honestly, I was stressed out.  He asked me the field of work I was in, I told him Crisis Work, and he stated “Well yea that is a stressful field.” (at least he didn’t make the face everyone else makes when I tell the my job.).

I left feeling relieved knowing that it was nothing-major happening with my heart, however I still was like what am I stressing about? I forgot to tell you guys, that my wife was five months pregnant with my baby girl.  I thought I was good, nah b. Little did I know I was internalizing those fears of being a father, fear of having enough money to cover expenses, fear of taking care of a whole human being that solely relies on you to protect, nurture and raise it. Secondly, my job was and continues to be very stressful. I had to figure out additional ways to balance out my work life balance, because it was poor. I was coming home doing nothing, not taking time for myself to release the stressors of a long day of work, not to mention rotating schedules and overnight shifts.

Third, my diet was poor and I had not picked up a basketball or worked out for months. I would work, barely do anything else get up and do it all over again. My stress levels were very high, and not only was I not practicing good self-care, I also was not decompressing, or utilizing healthy outlets to release my stress, which in turn resulted in chest pains for me. I can also agree that my sleep suffered (but my bed was trash as well).

What I am getting at?

When stress is bottled up, or when anxiety is bottled up it manifests in other areas of our lives. I think we know about bottling up, but I do not think we understand how it manifests through different areas. Whether it be sleep, appetite, mood, focus, concentration, racing thoughts, anxiety, overthinking, fear, memory loss or whatever you can think of, it will happen. In order to make sure, we are properly addressing our stress, anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed, here is something simple you can do, an audit of sorts.

Write these out

Identify your stress/stressors, what makes you stressed out? Overwhelmed or anxious?

When these things happen?  How are your behaviors affected? (i.e. sleep, mood, appetite, thoughts)

What ways are you dealing with your anxiety, stress, or feelings of being overwhelmed?

How do you plan on managing your stress, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed?

Remember our Mental Health is fluid and is ever changing. Make sure you are changing with it.

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  • This definitely hits home for me. I definitely understand that stress can effect you not only mentally but physically and manifest itself into different symptoms. I’m glad you were able to find out what was causing your chest pains. Unfortunately some people let it go on to cause other issues in their lives.

    • Ashley Wilson
  • Thank you for your transparency. I dealt with chest pains too and I thought it was coming from orange juice because I was in denial about being stressed. To me everything was “fine.” I’m a social worker and decided to eat better and exercise more. I had to develop some sort of outlet because work was truly wearing down on me.

    • LaQuita