Has it ever felt like your heart might pound right out of your chest due to nerves or stress? Or maybe it seemed liked your heart was skipping beats? The sensation could have you thinking something might be wrong with your heart. The good news is that, in most instances, anxiety-induced heart palpitations aren’t cause for concern, and there are ways to calm a racing heart.
Just about everyone experiences a fluttering or racing feeling at some point. “For most people who are in good health, brief and minor fluttering may not indicate a serious problem,” explains Matthew Dickson, M.D., a cardiologist on the medical staff of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and at Texas Health Heart & Vascular Specialists, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “Heart palpitations happen when your heart beats irregularly, faster or more forcefully than normal. Intense emotions can trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response, even if you’re not in danger, causing your heart to race. The feeling may also extend to your neck and throat and can seem quite scary for some people.”
Knowing what makes your heart race can help you not go into panic mode when it happens. Dickson does caution, however, that it’s a good idea to see a doctor for palpitations if you have a history of heart disease or if symptoms occur frequently, worsen, or are accompanied by chest pain, dizziness, loss of consciousness or shortness of breath. This could be a sign of an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia), thyroid disorder or other underlying health condition.
According to Dickson, common causes of anxiety-induced heart palpitations include:
- Fear that leads to a panic attack
- Stress or being keyed up for an extended period
If anxiety is a prime trigger for heart palpitations, getting a handle on those emotions can help you pump the brakes on the pounding and fluttering. Dickson offers some approaches for easing anxiety to help prevent full-on palpitations.
Make Stress Management a Priority
Chronic stress can leave you primed for a fight-or-flight response at any moment. By adopting habits that keep your stress levels in check, your nervous system will be able to deactivate or decompress more easily. Good stress management will mean fewer triggers and a better ability to regulate your feelings.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing stress,” Dickson admits. “It’s about finding strategies that work for you to bring a sense of calm and help you feel more centered.”
Regular exercise is known to be a great stress buster. An active lifestyle that includes working out has been shown to reduce the risk of anxiety disorders by up to 60 percent. Dickson suggests that walking, swimming, jogging, biking and other movement exercises may improve how the nervous system and heart work together to have a direct effect on keeping heart palpitations at bay. He does note that it’s important to check in with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine to make sure your heart is healthy enough to handle any new activity routine.
Falling short on shuteye can directly impact your mood. Many adults report feeling overly stressed when they don’t get enough sleep. Whether you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re anxious or you’re anxious because you can’t sleep, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation offers some ways to help you practice good sleep hygiene so you can wind down.
Practice Meditation or Mindful Movement
The ability to connect your mind with your body can be very helpful, as people who experience anxiety tend to disconnect from their bodies. “This can make it difficult to relax and regulate your heart rate,” Dickson says.
Straight meditation, yoga and tai chi are good for bringing your focus into the present and may help you look at stressful situations in a different light. Over time, Dickson says this “clearing of the mind” can make your anxiety feel more manageable.
“If you are dehydrated, you set yourself up to get heart palpitations,” Dickson adds. “Dehydration makes the heart beat faster and can change hormones and electrolytes in ways that cause more abnormal heart beats.”
Most people get the proper amounts of fluids for their body simply by drinking water when thirsty and eating water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. However, endurance athletes and those who work outside in hot or humid climates are the most prone to dehydration and should up their water intake to compensate for fluid loss.
Check Your Medicine Cabinet
Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs or supplements can trigger palpitations. According to Dickson, decongestant medications used to treat allergies or colds are some of the top culprits because they can temporarily raise blood pressure and heart rate to affect the heart rhythm. Other drugs may contain compounds that can raise heart rate or cause an abnormal heartbeat. These include medications that treat depression, high blood pressure, asthma, chronic pain, ADHD, bacterial or fungal infections, and cancer.
Pay Attention to Triggers
If you notice that you are more prone to heart palpitations after an intense workout, not getting good rest or even sleeping on your side (which can increase pressure in the body), it’s best to find ways to avoid such triggers for a happier heart and healthier mood.
Learn more about your heart health or find a heart and vascular specialist today at TexasHealth.org/Heart.