For my anxiety series I want to first focus on several common anxiety symptoms, under the assumption that this information will be what anxiety sufferers will first want. I previously covered insomnia. Again, I am not a doctor and everything is either derived from my personal experience, others, or the internet.
Last edited 5/16/20
The heart is important to us, so if something is wrong, we become fearful rather quickly. With anxiety, it is EXTREMELY common to have benign (harmless) symptoms. Some of which being more annoying than others…
The first one is usually simple: a fast heartbeat. When you have a panic attack, you are bound to have a fast heartbeat. It also happens when you have high baseline levels of anxiety or are going through an event that causes you anxiety. The normal heart rate range for adults is 60-100 beats per minute (BPM). Having a higher heart rate for short amounts of time is usually not harmful – in fact, consider that during exercise, your ideal heart rate (for young twentysomethings like myself, anyway) is around 150-160, and that is HELPFUL for your heart.
Fast heartbeat, also known as tachycardia, comes in a couple forms. It can gradually go up to a high rate, or it can instantly go up. There is sinus, ventricular, and superventricular tachycardia. Sinus is the standard high heart rate, and probably what most anxiety sufferers have. One of the best short-term methods to reduce heart rate is by deep breathing – breathe in for about four seconds, and breathe out for about eight. Continue as long as necessary. For the long term, exercise is helpful and can decrease your heart rate in the long run. And as always, good management of anxiety is extremely helpful if you know the tachycardia is caused by it.
I have had mild tachycardia seemingly for days at a time, but it was likely because I couldn’t stop noticing it, and periodically checked my heart rate to see if I was ‘safe’ or not. Over time, I learned to shake that habit, and the problem has gone away. Honestly, if tachycardia is not usually a problem, try simply not focusing on it. If indeed caused by anxiety, you might find the ‘problem’ goes away on its own in a matter of days once you learn to do that…
I also had some episodes early on where I zipped straight to a fast heart rate after waking up and sitting up from bed. This was likely also brought on from a significant lack of sleep. This also only lasted a short time, and deep breathing helped immensely in this case – it went down to normal with only one or two long, deep, breaths
Whatever the case… don’t dwell too much on the heart, especially if you’ve been given the all-clear by your doctor. If you are reasonably young, have no heart disease, and do not smoke, drink, or take drugs, chances are very much in your favor for this being harmless.
Next up is the pounding heartbeat. You feel your heartbeat, and it’s not going away. I still experience this a fair amount, especially at night and after meals (greasy stuff especially…). You simply experience your heartbeat more lying down. Much of the above tips apply to this, too. For me, they tend to go away whenever I distract myself – going for a long walk or taking a shower usually does the trick.
Although in anxiety chest pain is usually not heart-related, it is commonly mistaken as such and I do want to touch upon it. I do get chest pain from time to time in periods with high anxiety. As with everything else in this post, chest pain can be misconstrued for a symptom of a heart attack. Chest pain in anxiety usually happens more when you move or breathe. Deep breathing (as explained above) usually helps.
And now for PVCs. These ‘irregular’ heartbeats are felt as an extra heartbeat (which usually is forceful and out of rhythm), taking the place of the next normal heartbeat so you feel a conspicuous absence in your heart for a second. Everyone reportedly can get these, even if they’re healthy. A lot of times you won’t even notice. Other times… it’s like there’s no way you can’t notice them. Especially with anxiety. They’re particularly annoying to me and many others, seem to be fairly common with anxiety, and many interpret them as serious things to worry about, and that’s what makes these in particular so worrisome. Headache from anxiety? Sure. Nauseous? Okay. Heart going wild on you? Oh no I’m going to DIE!
The thing is, these ARE usually harmless, especially in the absence of any other symptoms and any risk factors for heart disease. You can even get thousands of them per day and you’ll be fine, as unbelievable as that may sound. Case in point: My first year of college, I started getting them a lot. Over the course of maybe two months I had a handful of PVCs per MINUTE. While I don’t believe the cause was ever found, I don’t have a problem attributing it to anxiety – after all, first year of college. Plus there was a specific class causing me a ton of grief – I seemed on track to fail it and I had never failed a class before. Small wonder I started getting PVCs.
And then, there’s other weird things that can happen with palpitations – maybe your heart just feels different for a while, like a flopping sensation. Again, if you’re cleared by your doctor, you have little to worry about. It all comes down to knowing if you should see a doctor or not. If the palpitations are clearly accompanied by other symptoms such as fainting, dizziness, or the like, see a doctor. If they are different or more frequent than usual, see a doctor. But once you’re cleared, simply relax when the palpitations hit and ride it through*.
*Yeah. Easier said than done. It’s a skill that takes time, but is also highly related to managing anxiety in general. Future parts will cover some of these skills.