The biggest question anxiety sufferers ask themselves when they are in the midst of an anxiety attack is “am I having a heart attack?” If this is the first time that an anxiety sufferer has experienced chest pains, pounding heart or chest pressure, the answer to that question needs to come from a qualified medical professional. If you have truly been diagnosed with anxiety and cleared of any cardiac issues, then the answer to the question, “am I having a heart attack,” is No.
When an anxiety attack starts, the body releases chemicals that cause the heart to race. It may even skip beats or beat irregularly. Now in turn, some conditions that cause the heart to race such as; premature supra ventricular tachycardia (PSVT), can begin first and then cause an anxiety attack. Physicians can do testing to make sure that an irregular heart rate is in fact not a cardiac problem like PSVT. True cardiac issues have some of the very same symptoms as an anxiety attack, but the difference is they last up to 30 minutes and are not relieved by medications, rest or efforts to calm anxiety.
When you have been cleared of a cardiac condition and your anxiety is getting the best of you, there are a few tricks to help you get through an episode of heart pounding. Yes, it is unnerving and uncomfortable, but it only lasts a few minutes with anxiety.
Let your heart race. This is the hardest part. Sit still during the anxiety attack and allow your heart to race. Stop all of the fleeting thoughts that go through your mind about your heart racing and how to stop it. The more you think about how much you don’t like it and how to stop it, the worse you are going to feel. Sit quietly and tell yourself that it is just a feeling and it will soon pass.
Get some exercise. This part is also hard. The chemicals that cause heart pounding can be burned off quickly through exercise. Yes, exercise speeds your heart rate up a little, but in the long run will help it slow down and also release chemicals that make you feel calm.
Drink extra water. Try to eliminate caffeine from your diet and up your intake of water. Dehydration from caffeine or not enough water can make your heart rate speed up. Sometimes just 32 ounces of water can make all the difference. Drink slowly and consistently. Try this trick: put a large glass of water to your lips and take slow deliberate sips. Don’t gulp. Just sip and don’t remove the glass until it is gone. This will not only get the extra fluids into your body, but the breathing associated will help calm hyperventilation in the process.
Take some slow deep breaths. Not enough oxygen will cause the heart to pound. Getting some quick oxygen to the blood stream will help slow the heart rate.
Try the Valsalva maneuver. This technique stimulates the vagal nerve which can slow the heart rate. Sit down in a comfortable position, hold your breath and bear down gently like you are having a bowel movement. Hold for a couple seconds and release. Do not hold for too long or you may pass out. But in a pinch, it can help regulate a fast heartbeat. Coughing deeply is another way to make a fussy heart regulate itself.
Just know that a pounding heart during an anxiety attack is a very common symptom. Remind yourself that if you are cleared of cardiac conditions that you are not having a heart attack. Your heart is just experiencing a side-effect of the anxiety chemicals. It is doing what it is supposed to do naturally. Just remember that if the pounding or racing does not subside within 30 minutes or you have chest pain or pressure lasting longer than 5 minutes, you should be checked by a physician as soon as possible. Most of the time the relief of knowing your heart is okay will increase your tolerance of anxiety attacks.