Tachycardia is a high resting heart rate (commonly 100+ BPM), meaning that the heart is beating too fast when there is not physical activity taking place. Imagine an original (1928 – 1944) Mickey Mouse cartoon with Mickey sitting on a park bench while Minnie Mouse walks by. The next frame shows Mickey’s heart pumping wildly. Clearly, his resting heart rate changed due to observing his future girlfriend. That same change can occur when anxiety stimulates the person without any physical activity.
Free-floating anxiety is often accompanied by tachycardia, heart tremor, or diaphoresis (excessive sweating). Since anxiety disorders are twice as common in females as males and this problem affects about 5% of the general population, 1,2 there are many women experiencing racing heartbeats that are not being taken seriously. Because most medical staff do not think of women as having heart problems, yet they do, in addition to anxiety issues showing up in the heart as tachycardia.3
Do I Have Heart Problems?
Tachycardia as a result of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is not a sign of heart disease. An accelerated heartbeat can continue for an extended period of time without damage, in the same way that some people have slow heartbeats. Tachycardia does not increase the likelihood of heart disease. Your problem is a treatable anxiety disorder causing a fast heartbeat. There is no permanent damage being caused to your heart.
Overcoming anxiety or stress is a matter of training to change a long-lived habit of overreacting to free-floating anxiety. This anxious feeling can begin in childhood, but is typically occurring later into early adulthood. Living through an overly stressful situation like a year in a war zone can cause this, for others the cause is more difficult to pinpoint. Anxiety appears as a sudden burst of energy, focus, and/or attention that takes you by surprise because there is a lack of a specific trigger and, yet, a strong emotional burst is sent that your heart detects and responds to.
A very sad aspect of tachycardia is often depression. In spite of the fact that experts assure those who have stress-related tachycardia that their heart is fine, many continue to feel helpless, hopeless, and have other deep concerns that manifest as depression. Depression is a clinical feeling of not being able to overcome the emotional darkness that settles onto a person’s overview of life. Depression is real.
Getting Help With Anxiety
There is no reason to wait to get help with anxiety. No one needs a diagnosis to be told that they are feeling anxious. Like the rose, if something looks and smell like a rose, it is likely a rose. If you have the signs of anxiety, do not wait for a medical issue, or friends or relatives to complain, take back your life all by yourself. Check in your local area or on the Internet for a therapist to help calm your heartbeat and your anxious feelings so you can look at life as a joy ride, not a scary place. Good luck!
1. Borkovec TD, Ruscio AM, 2001. Psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2001;62(Suppl 11):37–42.
2. Cameron OG, Smith CB, Lee MA, et al., 1990. Adrenergic status in anxiety disorders: platelet alpha 2-adrenergic receptor binding, blood pressure, pulse, and plasma catecholamines in
panic and generalized anxiety disorder patients and in normal subjects. Biological Psychiatry 1990;28:3–20.