When our heart starts racing and feels like we can almost hear it pounding away, it can be really scary – after all our heart is what keeps us alive, any changes can be alarming. However, this happens more than you might think and has been linked to anxiety. Of course, if you’re worried about your heart it’s always best to visit your doctor.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Cause A Racing Heart?
When we’re in a fight, flight or freeze state our heart rate increases so that it can circulate blood and oxygen to the major muscles and organs ready to face or flee from the perceived threat. This is what keeps us on our toes and allows us to react quickly to our surroundings.
What also happens when we’re in this survival mode is that our body becomes hyperstimulated. This in order to be more aware and sensitive to any sudden changes or movements that might increase the threat, it’s designed to keep us alive, but it also means we become more aware of any changes within our own body, including the increase in heart rate. With this overstimulation and hypersensitivity, it can feel like our heart is racing, pumping too hard or too loud or too fast, when in reality, it’s just that we’re hyper aware of our body’s processes whilst in fight, flight or freeze mode.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our heart rate to slow and our body to lower its sensitivity and stimulation. However, this may take a while as the body has to gradually bring itself back down to its natural, balanced state or homeostasis.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.