Heart palpitations are one of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety, and they’re also one of the most terrifying. When you experience palpitations, it’s hard not to think there’s something serious wrong with your heart, and that’s where the intense fear comes from.
On 2 separate occasions I ended up in the emergency room in the middle of the night because of palpitations, and I’m not special. A large number of the people I’ve met through my anxiety websites tell me that they’ve also ended up in emergency rooms due to palpitations.
Both the physical sensations and the psychological worries that come with palpitations can make your life miserable. That’s why your palpitations need to be stopped, and that’s what this post is here to help you to do.
First, let’s start by looking at how your anxiety causes your palpitations in the first place.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Heart Palpitations?
You know when something unexpected scares you, like almost crashing your car, or seeing a scary-looking stranger on a dark street at night?
When something like that happens, the fear you feel will trigger an adrenaline rush. An adrenaline rush is one of your body’s defence mechanisms and it affects your body in several ways:
- it makes your heart beat faster
- it makes your breathing quicken
- it makes blood rush to your large muscles
- it heightens your senses
An adrenaline rush has other effects too, but these are the ones you’ll notice.
All of these effects are to prepare you to do deal with some kind of danger. The adrenaline rush helps you get ready to either fight the danger, or to run away from the danger: the well-known “fight or flight” response.
And all of this is totally normal. When something scares you, your body should release adrenaline and you should notice all of those physical reactions that the adrenaline causes.
Then, you’ll deal with the danger or the danger will pass, the adrenaline will leave your system, and you’ll go back to feeling normal.
But constant anxiety messes with this natural process.
When you’re always anxious, you experience mini adrenaline rushes all throughout the day. They won’t feel as powerful as the adrenaline rushes caused by things like car crashes and fearing for your life, and you may not even notice them, but they’re happening all the time.
Your anxiety and worrying cause these mini adrenaline rushes, and the result is that adrenaline is constantly seeping into your bloodstream faster than your body can clear it.
This excess and unnecessary adrenaline inside you has all the same effects on your body as a natural, normal adrenaline rush, and one of those effects is a rapid, thumping heart.
So here’s how your anxiety causes your palpitations:
- you’re constantly anxious and worried
- your mind is tricked into thinking there’s genuine danger
- you experience small, repeated adrenaline rushes
- your body can’t clear the adrenaline fast enough
- your adrenaline levels rise
- your heart reacts to the high adrenaline levels and beats hard and fast
When you notice palpitations in the future, recall this series of events.
It’s easy to panic when you feel your heart pounding all around your body, but remind yourself that there’s a reason for your palpitations: your constant anxiety and the resulting high levels of adrenaline.
The root-cause of your palpitations is your anxiety, not a problem with your heart.
What Do Heart Palpitations Caused by Anxiety Feel Like?
I’ve had a lot of experience with palpitations. Through my 17 year battle with anxiety, palpitations were my worst physical symptom by far.
I’d experience them many times a day, sometimes constantly, and they were responsible for more hospital and doctor visits than any other problem my anxiety caused me.
This may sound familiar to you, because palpitations are a problem for almost everyone who lives with severe anxiety.
One of the worst things about palpitations is how scary they are. When you experience them, and you’re already an overly-anxious person, it’s understandable that you might interpret them as a sign of a serious problem with your heart.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to learn what palpitations caused by anxiety actually feel like. When you know what palpitations feel like, and when you know that they feel the same way for everyone with anxiety, it’s much easier to remain calm when you experience them.
So what do palpitations caused by anxiety feel like? Here’s a list of what you might experience:
- your heart races for no apparent reason
- your heart feels like it skips beats
- your heart feels like it’s changing speeds
- your heart feels like it’s beating too hard
- you feel a fluttering sensation in your chest
- you can hear your heartbeat in your ears
- you can feel your pulse at points all around your body
- you feel breathless
When you look at the way palpitations can make you can feel, it’s understandable why they can be so scary. These are strong physical changes in your body, and it’s sometimes hard to believe that the cause is nothing more than anxiety.
But palpitations really can be caused by nothing more than anxiety, and you should find reassurance in that.
How to Stop Heart Palpitations Caused by Anxiety
If your palpitations are caused by excess adrenaline in your system, the way to stop your palpitations is to get rid of all that excess adrenaline.
The best way to do that is to use something I call anxiety timeouts.
An anxiety timeout is a period of a few minutes where you give yourself a break from anything that may be contributing to your anxiety.
People who don’t have problems with anxiety take anxiety timeouts all the time without thinking about it, so they never have issues with things like palpitations because their adrenaline levels are always normal.
But when you have anxiety, you never give yourself these breaks. You worry constantly, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. This is why your adrenaline levels get so out of whack and why things like palpitations are a problem for you.
The good news is, anxiety timeouts can fix this problem.
Each time you give yourself an anxiety timeout you get a short break from your worries, and that allows your adrenaline levels to fall slightly. Enough of these anxiety timeouts throughout the day will get your adrenaline levels back to normal.
And that should fix your problems with palpitations.
If you make anxiety timeouts a habit that you stick to for the long-haul, they’ll also stop your adrenaline levels from ever climbing back up again, meaning your palpitations should stay away for good.
So anxiety timeouts are the key. But how do you actually take an anxiety timeout?
It’s easy, and there are many ways to do it. Anything that shuts your mind off to your worries for a few minutes is an anxiety timeout. Here are the things that work well for me as anxiety timeouts:
- mindfulness meditation
- singing along to gentle music
- gentle walks with music via headphones
- gentle exercise while watching TV
- light reading
- playing with a pet
- lying down while listening to relaxation CDs
- getting a massage from someone
- playing with kids
You get the idea.
You want to find things that are relaxing and distracting and that require enough focus that it’s hard to think of anything negative at the same time. Anything that meets these guidelines will work great as an anxiety timeout.
At this point, you may be thinking that these anxiety timeouts sound like nothing new and that they could never help with a horrible problem like palpitations.
But trust me, these anxiety timeouts work.
Think about this for a moment: when you’re stressed, anxious, or worried, how often do you do something that could be considered an anxiety timeout?
If you’re anything like I was when my anxiety was at its worst, then during times of stress you probably do things like pace around, think horrible thoughts, eat, focus on the future and things you fear, perform physical compulsions.
All of those things feed your anxiety, raise your adrenaline levels, and make problems like palpitations even worse.
But when you’re highly anxious from this point on, do an anxiety timeout instead of turning to those other things you normally do that are so damaging.
When you first start to use anxiety timeouts during times of intense anxiety, it will feel unnatural to do things like meditate or read, and you’ll probably have to force yourself to do the anxiety timeout.
It will feel wrong and it will feel like it won’t help. But you need to do the anxiety timeouts anyway.
Just have faith.
Eventually, and usually quicker than you think, the anxiety timeouts will begin to work. During each of your timeouts, the break you give your body and mind will allow your adrenaline levels to fall, and at some point your palpitations will stop.
And when that happens, don’t stop using anxiety timeouts.
You need to make them a habit, a part of your day. Even when you’re not feeling anxious or worried, continue to use anxiety timeouts every time you get a chance.
By continuing to use anxiety timeouts, you’ll make sure that your adrenaline levels never creep back up, and that means your palpitations should never return to you.
Palpitations are a horrible symptom of anxiety.
If the sensation of your heart pounding all around your body isn’t bad enough on its own, you’ve also got the worry that the palpitations are being caused by a problem with your heart.
You end up in one of the many vicious circles that anxiety can cause: your anxiety causes your palpitations, your palpitations make you more anxious, and you can’t break the cycle.
But now that you’ve read this post, I’m hoping that you can finally get some relief about your palpitations.
You understand now why your anxiety causes your palpitations, and that should give you some peace of mind that nothing terrible is physically wrong with you.
You also now have a plan to stop your palpitations.
You need to start using anxiety timeouts throughout your day, both at times when you’re feeling highly anxious, and at times when you feel fine. The breaks this gives your body and mind will allow your excess adrenaline levels to fall and your palpitations will eventually stop.
And if you keep up your anxiety timeouts and make them a part of your day-to-day life, your palpitations should stay away for good.