Physical Symptoms

Rapid Heartbeat and Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Rapid Heartbeat and Anxiety

One of the greatest challenges facing those that have anxiety is that anxiety feeds itself. For example, if you are afraid of social situations because you are worried about being embarrassed, and then you go out to a public place, stumble over your words, and embarrass yourself, you’ll be even more likely to experience anxiety the next time you decide to go out.

The symptoms of anxiety are often able to do the same thing. That is especially the case with a rapid heartbeat. Anxiety can make your heartbeat speed up, and when it does, it can be a scary event that creates even more anxiety.

How Anxiety Causes Rapid Heartbeat

Anxiety is the activation of the fight or flight system. It is reacting as though it is about to experience a dangerous situation. If you were to run or fight, you would need your heartbeat to speed up so that blood could flow quickly to your muscles so that you can run for your life or punch your attacker in the nose.

But there is no danger.

So all you’re left with is a pounding, fast heartbeat that you are unable to slow down. The fight or flight system is linked to a hormone called adrenaline, which triggers all of the different responses your body has to dangerous situations. The adrenaline is moving through your veins, keeping your heart rate fast, and leading to the unease you feel about it.

In addition, because there is no danger, you are likely well aware of how fast your heart is going. For many, that creates more anxiety, leading to a sustained rapid heart rate. The technical term for this is Sinus Tachycardia.

Yet that’s not even the only link between anxiety and rapid heartbeat.

  • Fast heartbeat may be even worse if you have panic attacks. Both anxiety and panic attacks cause shallow, slower breathing (also caused by adrenaline, as shallow breathing would be useful if you were running away from dangerous). This, in turn, can lead to hyperventilation. When you hyperventilate, your body has too much oxygen and your blood slows down. This forces your heart to push harder and faster. This is known as Supraventricular Tachycardia.
  • Anxiety makes you more aware of how you feel. This is known as “hypersensitivity.” When you are more aware of how you feel, it can often feel worse for you than the same experience with someone that is not as aware. Thus, anxiety can make your heartbeat feel more rapid than it is.
  • Finally, anxiety and stress seem to cause an increased frequency of “skipped beats.” These are not dangerous, but when the heart skips a beat it triggers heart palpitations which cause a racing heartbeat. They can be especially scary for those with anxiety, and – as is often the case – they can sometimes create more anxiety.

These are some of the many links between anxiety and rapid heartbeat. They also explain yet another reason that anxiety feeds itself. Your heart is responsible for your life. It is perfectly normal to feel more anxiety when it seems like something is going wrong with your heart.

Controlling Rapid Heartbeat from Anxiety

Because rapid heartbeat is linked to anxiety, the best way to control it is to reduce your anxiety. But for those looking for specific tips to address this one symptom, there are different strategies and techniques you can try:

  • Breathe Slower – Hyperventilation makes you feel like you are not getting enough oxygen, which causes you to yawn or try to force deeper breaths. The problem is, the opposite is true. You are breathing too fast, and your body doesn’t have time to make more carbon dioxide which your blood needs. Slow your breathing significantly and try not to force bigger breaths. This can help ease hyperventilation.
  • Wait – Once you’ve triggered adrenaline in your bloodstream, it doesn’t go away that easily. You do have to wait it out. Find yourself a quiet spot, relax, close your eyes, and let yourself calm down as best you can. For those with anxiety, this is easier said than done. But it will at least give you a space you can rest so that you can wait for your adrenaline to reduce. If you’ve learned any relaxation exercises, that would be the time to use them.
  • Understand Rapid Heartbeat – If you haven’t been to the doctor for a while, it doesn’t hurt to go to ease your mind. But it’s good to remember that heart issues do not pop up over night. If your doctor doesn’t see any, your likelihood of having one is low. Spend some time understanding the science of racing heartbeats. Knowledge can be powerful, and a thorough understanding of why a rapid heartbeat occurs can help put your mind at ease.

A rapid heartbeat is, unfortunately, one of those symptoms of anxiety that is not easily stopped. Anxiety is the fight or flight system, and the fight or flight system releases adrenaline which races your heart.

Instead, what you should try to do is focus on preventing rapid heartbeat from creating more anxiety for you. You can do this by learning to breathe during times of anxiousness, waiting out the rapid heartbeat in a comfortable place, and gaining a greater level of understanding about how it occurred.

It may not stop the way your heart beats, but it will give you a chance to prevent rapid heartbeat – and other anxiety symptoms – from feeding on themselves and causing more anxiety to occur.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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