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Alcohol and Mental Health

How To Cope With Anxiety-Induced Heart Palpitations

July 12, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 12, 2023
9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 12, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 12, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
July 12, 2023
9 min read

When it comes to our body's response to stress and anxiety, the heart is often center stage. Imagine our heart like a lake at calm — the smooth, peaceful surface indicates all is as it should be. However, when anxiety emerges like a gust or an underwater lurker, it causes ripples across its surface. Think of these ripples as heart palpitations.

Heart palpitations may feel like our heart is pounding, racing, or fluttering — which, in itself, can increase our anxiety, creating a feedback loop that's hard to interrupt.

This seemingly vicious cycle is our body's complex way of signaling that something is amiss. In this article, we’ll explore how to understand these signals, regulate them, and manage our anxiety in a more constructive way — encouraging our heart to return to its normal calm and steady state.

Anxiety and the Heart

​​Heart palpitations can be a symptom of anxiety, caused by the activation of the body's autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS regulates body functions such as digestion, heart rate, and breathing.

Anxiety causes heart palpitations by engaging the body's "fight-or-flight" response, which triggers a series of bodily events, including the release of certain hormones.

The increased blood flow gives a burst of energy to fight or run from danger — and many people notice palpitations when they're scared, nervous, or anxious.

Heart palpitations caused by situational anxiety can be managed with relaxation strategies, like taking slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.

If heart palpitations are caused by chronic anxiety disorders, proper treatment can help manage anxiety and calm the palpitations.

Taming the Anxious Heart

Studies show that the most effective way to calm anxiety-induced palpitations is by managing the anxiety itself. It's similar to avoiding hangovers by cutting back on drinking. Of course, anxiety doesn’t have a switch we can immediately turn off. It takes work — and, sometimes, professional help.

It’s important to not just deal with symptoms, but to address the root cause. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices, and medication (when prescribed by a healthcare provider) have all proven helpful in managing anxiety.

Heart palpitations could signal a panic attack, a sudden and intense bout of anxiety or discomfort.

It’s important to note heart palpitations can also be a symptom of atrial fibrillation (Afib), a heart condition. Research has found drinking 1.2 drinks per day increases the risk of developing Afib.

If heart palpitations occur frequently, worsen, or are ever accompanied by chest pain, dizziness, loss of consciousness, or shortness of breath, it's essential to see a doctor to rule out Afib or any other underlying health conditions.

Keeping Anxiety at Bay

Remember, anxiety-induced heart palpitations are our body signaling a problem. Think of palpitations as a call to action. It's our body encouraging us to pause, breathe, and attend to our well-being.

The simple act of deep, conscious breathing can convince our nervous system to shift from "fight-or-flight" mode to "rest-and-digest." By slowing our heart rate, we're sending signals back to our brain saying, "We're safe; we're okay."

Here are some breathing exercises you might find useful to ward off anxiety and palpitations, both of which slow our heart rate by controlling our breath:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing. This is a relaxation technique that involves taking slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth at least ten times in a row.
  • Pursed-lip breathing. This technique involves breathing in through the nose and breathing out slowly through pursed lips.

With this newfound understanding, we can feel empowered to make lasting changes. Here are a few other practical steps we can take:

  • Self-observe. Identify the triggers for your anxiety, and try to avoid them. Observe, too, when your anxiety is most often causing palpitations: where you are, what you are doing, what you were thinking about, and other helpful information.
  • Embrace mindfulness. Practice deep-breathing techniques, meditation, and/or yoga. These practices keep us grounded in the present, reducing anxiety.
  • Nurture your body. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and reducing alcohol intake can help manage anxiety and its symptoms. It’s important you’re cued into proper hydration and nutrients — an electrolyte imbalance can affect your heart.
  • Examine your drinking patterns. Drinking can exacerbate anxiety and have ill — even dangerous — effects on the heart, such as Holiday Heart Syndrome or increasing our risk of heart disease. Cutting back or practicing sobriety may be a good alternative, especially during especially stressful periods — and most definitely if you feel your heart beat faster after drinking.
  • Tai chi, yoga, or other mindful movement. These practices can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall well-being.
  • Complementary health treatments. Biofeedback, massage therapy, time in nature, and other techniques may help you relax and manage anxiety.
  • Reframe the narrative. Remember, our body is on our side. It's working to keep us safe and well.
  • Seek professional help. If anxiety feels overwhelming, consult a healthcare provider or a mental health professional. It's okay to ask for help!

When your heart starts pounding, find a way to connect with yourself. It's an invitation to pause, breathe, and return to the present moment.

Do speak with your healthcare provider if you feel palpitations frequently, if they worsen, or if they’re ever accompanied by chest pain, dizziness, loss of consciousness, or shortness of breath. This could point to an underlying health condition you should get checked out.

Reclaim Your Calm With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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