How to Manage Anxiety-Induced Heart Palpitations
Anxiety triggers many treacherous symptoms that can look like real health issues, including unsettling heart palpitations. Unfortunately, it’s very good at faking it, and if you have health anxiety like me, a heart palpitation can cause so much more anxiety, which can become the start of a brand new panic attack… which, ultimately, is caused by my own anxiety.
Trust me, the irony is not lost on me.
Even worse, I have so many more equally ironic situations that were caused by my anxiety, which caused me more anxiety. Because that stuff is everything except rational, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
How Do I Manage Anxiety Symptoms?
Anxiety management is insanely tricky and difficult, without mentioning the fact that anxiety relapses are bound to happen. Still, do not despair: it is possible to lower the effects of anxiety, and you can have good days again.
Heart palpitations can feel different from one person to another. In my case, I feel like my heart flips, somewhere at the level of my sternum. Sometimes, I feel like my heart stops for a few seconds. Others may feel like their heart is pounding really strongly, or like your heartbeat is very irregular.
Why does anxiety cause heart palpitations? As stupid as it sounds, it comes from the fight or flight response.
Your anxiety is always on the lookout for threats, and as soon as it finds a potential threat (which is often… not really a threat), it makes your sympathetic system kick in. To do that, your anxiety needs to wake it up, somehow – and that’s where things like heart palpitations come in.
Fight or flight response is designed to help us survive. It comes from way back when humans faced threats much more deadly than we do now (not to say that we’re entirely rid of threats) and this instinct helped us survive.
It’s still in use daily today
Think about walking outside at night. Your senses will be heightened, you may be slightly panicking and on your guard. That’s your fight or flight response, and it’s oddly similar to our anxiety, isn’t it? The only difference is that the anxiety is often unwarranted.
People like us, with anxiety, will often feel like something’s off, or something’s about to happen, or there is an imminent threat. It may sound familiar when I tell you that I sometimes get an unhealthy dose of panic while trying to fall asleep in my safe, locked apartment, with locked windows, where I double-checked that all appliances were off before going to bed… and yet, there is plenty of panic in my brain anyway.
While we humans are no longer prone to getting chased around by wolves, tigers or mammoths, our brains still have the reflex to try and keep us safe – and that is detrimental to us. At least, the level of anxiety cause by that survival instinct is.
You are safe
No matter what anxiety side-effect you personally have, it is important to work on the root cause: your brain’s need for safety, and perceived danger.
* Needless to say, that is only applicable when you are not actually in danger.
For some, meditation will be the best way to calm down. For others, it will be exercise or getting themselves busy to keep their minds off of the anxiety. Or it’ll be anti-anxiety meds, because there’s nothing wrong with using the tools at your disposal, including medication.
What makes -you- feel safe?
If your brain is sending you RED ALERT signals, then it’s time to send it a few messages of safety. A lot of websites out there will give you the same 5 tips on how to calm your anxiety, but I realize that it’s a lot more personalized than that; it’s about what YOU need.
I find that warm food or drinks calm me (obviously not coffee, though!), so I like to make myself a cup of tea, or some ramen, to find that warmth when I’m anxious. It could be a hot chocolate, or reheating leftover food from yesterday, too!
Speaking of warm drinks, some types of tea will really help you calm down, more than others. My personal favourite tea to calm down is a mix of honey, vanilla and chamomile.
Just like food and drinks will warm me up from the inside, I also find it comforting to get an extra layer of clothing or a blanket or two.
I do meditate, but I need a specific type of guided meditation that focuses on telling me that I am safe, healthy, etc.
Short of meditation, you can also do breathing exercises. Make sure to focus on breathing in AND out equally, so you don’t hyperventilate.
Lo-Fi music for homework or for anxiety relief works wonders for me. Maybe it could help you, too? YouTube has so many options. I like to search for 1-hr videos so that I can put it in the background and let it work its magic.
Anxiety makes me feel faint, so I wouldn’t exercise while my anxiety levels are high. However, I try to exercise daily (when I can, disabilities can get in the way). I try to keep up some physical activities partly because it is part of being healthy, which helps my health anxiety, and partly because I notice a difference when I don’t do it.
Going outside and getting some air is often an amazing help for general anxiety and panic attacks alike. You don’t need to go for a long walk in a forest to feel the benefits, either – just sitting on your balcony, or taking a short 5 minute walk close to home will help. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, just open two windows for some air circulation.
Massaging your Sternum
With heart palpitations, once you’ve gone through the palpitation itself, it can help to place a hand on your chest and massage the sternum area gently. Keep the hand firmly on the skin so as to move the skin as you move your hand in a small circle.
Get Some Quality Time with Your Pet
If you have a cat, dog, hamster, turtle, lizard, teddy bear, I don’t know… Something you can hug, and pet, and enjoy its company for comfort. Now’s a perfect occasion to get some cuddle time in! I am lucky enough to have a cuddly cat who purrs a lot. It does wonders for my mental health!
Take your mind off of it
While that can be a bit difficult to implement, shifting your focus from your anxiety to something else will be really beneficial. Now’s the time to get into that addictive phone game you love to hate, or to read the newspaper or scroll Instagram. Whatever floats your boat. I once got off an entire anxiety attack by hyper-focusing on articles about productivity tips… Not that I ever used any of them later.
Something to consider
While this is certainly not for just everybody, I want to bring to your attention that inflammation can make your thorax area more painful, and potentially make palpitations feel more present and lasting than they should.
If you know that inflammation is something you deal with regularly, swapping your anti-anxiety med for an anti-inflammatory instead could be beneficial. Removing the pains = removing the cause for anxiety.
Again, this is only if you know you have trouble with inflammation to begin with. If you’re not sure, ask your doctor to check it out for you.
And of course, if anti-inflammatories are not something you should take, don’t take them. If you’re unsure, talk to your doctor and/or pharmacist about it.
preventing anxiety and lowering overall stress levels
Other than trying to deal with your panic attacks as they happen, it is also possible to make changes in your every day life to keep your anxiety at a lower overall level.