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Stress and Heart Health: Calm Your Palpitations

Written by Reshma Pathare on Fri, 11 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • Stress has become a part of our lives now. It can give a lot of anxiety and bring about palpitations.
  • Understanding and recognizing the cause of stress can help in managing the physical symptoms of it.
  • Techniques such as pucker-lipped breathing can help in calming you down and reducing palpitations for the time being.
  • Long-term changes need to be made to manage stress and anxiety such as mindful eating, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising.
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Everyone experiences stress. It is an inevitable part of life. When you are consistently under pressure or haven't slept well in ages, you may experience stress in your body.

You may also experience stress if you are concerned about your work, finances, relationship issues, or when worrying about a family member or friend who is sick or in distress.

Your body naturally raises blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing, metabolic activity, and blood circulation to your muscles in response to such worries.

So, the question then is, how to be stress-free? How to live a stress-free life? Let us find out.

Dissecting the link between stress and palpitations

When we are anxious, our bodies react physically. Sweaty palms, shaking, and abdominal discomfort are all possible scenarios. It's also common to experience a pounding or whirling sensation in your chest, which can also be recognized as heart palpitation.

Palpitations occur when you're able to feel your heartbeat. They are sometimes expected, such as after exercise. Other times, palpitations strike without warning.

Is it possible for anxiety to cause heart palpitations?

Anxiety initiates your body's "fight-or-flight" response. The fight-or-flight response sets off a sequence of reactions in your body, such as the secretion of certain hormones. Scientists agree that this response was beneficial in ancient cultures when people would have to fight or flee threats to stay alive.

Your fight-or-flight response is still just as effective as it ever has been. It simply does not understand the difference between an animal attack and a work presentation. As a result, those very same hormones, such as adrenaline, kick in to defend you.

The increased blood flow provides you with a shot of adrenaline to fight or flee danger. As a result, many people have experienced palpitations and other illnesses caused by stress and anxiety.

When palpitations make you anxious

Palpitations and anxiety do not always sync up in fight-or-flight scenarios. Some individuals face fear or anxiety once they notice their hearts pounding or fluttering. They understandably become worried because they have no idea why these palpitations appear. Palpitations can lead to anxiety, which also causes more palpitations. This ends up creating a difficult cycle to break.

How to avoid stress and anxiety caused by palpitations

Here are a few stress management techniques that help in slowing your heart rate and thus reduce your palpitations.

Techniques to manage your palpitations
 

1. Control your breathing

When your heart rate increases, so will your breathing rate. You can, however, subvert this process by controlling your breathing. Inhale deeply through your nostrils and exhale through your mouth. Repeat at least ten times, ideally for a few minutes.

2. Concentrate your thoughts

When you get palpitations, your mind may get overcrowded with thoughts. Concentrate on an image, phrase, or melody that inspires you to feel calm. Continue taking slow, deep breaths as you concentrate on this one thing.

Tip: Do so even if you're not stressed out to improve your overall well-being.

3. Go for a stroll

If possible, take a short stroll. Down the hall is nice, but being outside in nature would be even better. If you go too fast, your heart won't have time to slow down.

4. Stay hydrated

Dehydration can exacerbate palpitations. Drink some water, or if you've been working out hard, try an electrolyte-containing beverage. Avoid caffeinated beverages, which can increase anxiety and palpitations.

5. Breathing technique with pursed lips

  • Relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders.
  • Inhale slowly through your nostrils for two counts while your mouth remains closed. Take a normal breath instead of a deep one. It might help to count out loud: inhale, one, two.
  • Pucker or "purse" your lips just like if you are about to whistle or softly flicker a candle flame.
  • While counting to four, exhale gently and slowly through your pursed lips. It might help to count out loud: exhale, 1,2,3,4.

Tips to manage chronic stress

Tips to manage chronic stress
 

Maintain a healthy diet

A well-balanced diet can promote a healthier immune system and repair damaged cells. It gives you the extra energy you need to deal with stressful situations.

According to preliminary research, certain foods such as polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fats, and veggies may help in regulating cortisol levels. If you frequently eat out because you are too tired or too busy to plan meals at home, consider meal planning, a practice that can help you start saving a lot of time, make sure more balanced healthful meals, and prevent obesity.

Stay away from toxic work environments

This is not uncommon and induces a lot of stress for employees. This type of stress occurs when workers are not provided with the appropriate tools and atmosphere to function and meet the growing pressure of the workplace.

Practice mindful eating

We "stress-eat" when we eat speedily without paying attention to what or how much we're eating, which could also lead to weight gain.

Mindful eating practices reduce stress by encouraging deep breaths, thoughtful food selection, simply focusing on the food, and chewing food steadily and carefully. This improves digestion and increases meal enjoyment.

Mindful eating can also help us to recognize when we are eating for psychological reasons rather than physiological hunger, which may cause us all to eat as a coping mechanism.

Benefits of exercise on mental health

Physical activity will aid in the reduction of blood pressure and stress hormone levels. Aerobic activities, such as walking and dancing, raise breathing and heart rate, allowing more oxygen to reach cells throughout the body. This relaxes the muscles, including the heart.

Counseling for mental health or other forms of social support

Feeling isolated can exacerbate stress. It can be beneficial to discuss fears and emotions with a trusted source. Simply recognizing that you are not alone and also that your emotions are not unusual can often help reduce stress.

Maintaining hobbies and interests

Schedule at least one fun activity or hobby per week. Gardening, reading, listening to music, getting a massage, going for a hike in nature, and cooking a favorite recipe are all welcome stress relievers.

Good sleeping habits

Stress causes a heightened awareness of alertness, thus delaying the onset of sleeping and interrupting sleep all through the night. This can keep you from entering deeper sleep stages, where your body heals and develops tissue and maintains a stronger immune system.

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is incredibly useful for emotional regulation and memory. Slow down roughly 30 minutes before bedtime to achieve 7-9 hours of sleep. Controlling stress with some other tips mentioned above can also help you sleep better.

Conclusion

Anxiety and palpitations are common occurrences for nearly everyone — it's part of life. However, don't dismiss frequent stress or palpitations. Your doctor can help you identify the causes and, if necessary, administer medication to best manage your stress and heart health.

Palpitations are usually just an indication that your heart is working a little harder than normal. However, palpitations may be an indication of a condition such as an arrhythmia. So, the best thing to do is to listen to your body, an act accordingly.

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Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

Apart from being a journalist, Reshma also works as a copy-editor for self-publishing houses and academic journals.

She is an award-winning bi-lingual translator with more than 12 books published in her name.

She has been a Visiting Faculty Member for post-graduate department of mass media at MET College (Mumbai) and Welingkar WeSchool (Mumbai).

She has worked as a Consumer Marketing Insights Researcher for global organizations like CEB Iconoculture (USA) and Gartner (USA).

Consolidating her multifarious skills in the media, in 2021, Reshma launched her own boutique media agency called Talking Turkey Communications, which specializes in content writing, editing, and translation.

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  1. Can Anxiety Cause Heart Palpitations? - Cleveland Clinic at https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-anxiety-cause-heart-palpitations/
  2. Stress and Health | The Nutrition Source at https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/stress-and-health/