Why When We Are Sad Does Our Chest Hurt? What are the Causes?


Sadness not only acts like a heavy slab on us, but sometimes gives way to chest pain, making it hard for us to breathe.

Emotional pain is an invisible wound of non-physical origin. And despite this, it impacts, weighs down, weighs down and causes discomfort. So much so that many wonder why when we are sad our chest hurts . It’s like having an invisible dagger right in the center, a choking slab that presses on us every time we breathe.

It is as if the brain wanted to remind us that sadness is there, as if it were a program that has been installed in our mind. This emotion adheres to the body like a second skin, making our movements heavier. It forces us to stillness, to that immobility that invites us to curl up and enter the deep and lonely recesses of introspection and reflection.

What is striking is that this is precisely the objective of this psychophysical state. That we stop, that we leave everything, that as astronauts we explore the infinite vastness of that internal reality to understand it, to better adapt to what surrounds us. Physical discomfort and even bodily pain also serve its methodical purpose …


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The reason your chest hurts when you’re sad

The natural trigger for sadness is always loss . Now, we’re not just talking about losing someone or experiencing a breakup. We are sad when something that was significant to us is gone — a job, for example — when what we want doesn’t come or what we took for granted changes. A disappointment is also a loss , because what gave us meaning is no longer present.


This type of emotional pain forces us to travel through the void of different types of absences and nonsense. This, in turn, generates different degrees of suffering. Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of emotions, indicates that sadness is experienced in different degrees: from simple bewilderment to anguish and despair.

It is not difficult to deduce that this emotion has significant psychophysical correlates. In general, the higher our emotional suffering is on this intensity scale of sadness, the greater the symptoms. Stress is the main reason why our chest hurts when we are sad . We analyze it.

When the brain interprets emotional pain as a threat

Chest pain usually appears when our suffering is intense or sustained over time . It is common for this high intensity psychophysical effect to appear in duels. Losing someone or suffering a breakup are two common triggers. Also the periods of crisis in the transitions, as well as the most painful disappointments .

  • What happens in these cases is the following. The body interprets this intense and persistent emotional experience as a threat and consequently develops a stress response.
  • That stress response releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline . Blood pressure rises and the brain decides to send higher levels of oxygen to the muscles and not so much to the heart or lungs. He does this in an attempt to facilitate fight or flight behavior.
  • Consequently, we experience a certain sensation of suffocation or pressure due to these hormonal and physiological alterations.

Broken heart syndrome, emotions pushed to the limit

When wondering why when we are sad our chest hurts, it is interesting to talk about a cardiac syndrome. It was in 1991 when cardiologists from Hiroshima (Japan) warned of a heart disease that manifested itself above all in women . They called it broken heart syndrome and it consists of a (temporary) left ventricular dysfunction caused by emotional stress.

Investigations , such as those carried out at the University of Utrecht, speak of this heart condition. What has been learned from the discovery of this condition is that intense sadness, anguish, and suffering can lead to reversible stress cardiomyopathy .

In situations of persistent sadness, the body develops a stress response by releasing adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones act by speeding up the heart, reducing oxygen levels and raising catecholamine levels. This generates a feeling of pressure and suffocation. In extreme cases, a punctual heart disease can occur, but it is reversible and not serious.

What can we do when sadness becomes painful?

Sadness doesn’t just translate into chest pressure. It makes our muscles weigh like lead, reduces our attention levels and alters our appetite. What can we do in these situations in which this emotion becomes almost like a heavy suit that sinks us to the seabed of our suffering ?


The first thing is to deactivate the intolerance towards emotions of negative valence . It is true that nobody likes to feel them. That hurt, distort, numb and stop our lives turning us into someone we don’t like. However, every emotion wants us to give it a presence and not hide it under our bed, in the darkest corner of our mind.

Let’s find someone who listens to us without judging, let’s vent the pain, absence and frustration by talking. Let’s trace innovative solutions and not feed the concern that immobilizes and oxidizes sorrows even more. Let us accept what cannot be changed and let us change what requires a new existential formulation.

After all, sadness only wants us to talk to ourselves, and this exercise will turn off sorrows and allow us to breathe again; without pain.

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