Why A Fast Heart Beat Isn’t Dangerous

chest painFor many people a fast heart beat is a waking nightmare. A constant reminder that something isn’t right.

I think of a fast heart beat (tachycardia) in less intense terms. I consider it a sign of stress and not death. Tachycardia (100 heart beats per minute or more) simply isn’t the killer you think it is.

This is an important topic to address because it’s a symptom that has likely affected you.

You see, when you get tachycardic, you imagine all sorts of horrific scenarios, many of which probably involve a sickness of some kind.

It’s one of the reasons why tachycardia scares so well, it makes you feel like your life could end at any moment. But tachycardia doesn’t always mean danger or damage.

How It Works

When you feel anxious you might assume that anxiety is the source of your symptoms. But, in fact, the culprit is stress.

Stress is designed for short bursts of energy, attention, and focus to help you avert injury or death. The trouble is that when your stress response is set off it can sometimes remain activated for long periods of time.

One reason for this could be that you’re sensitive to stress, which fires off strong emotional reactions that make it hard for you to recover from bouts of anxiety.

The result of being stress sensitive is that your body’s production of stress hormone (i.e., adrenaline and cortisol) can be elevated and have a major impact on your body.

Stress can increase the demand for blood  (cardiac output), which makes the heart work harder, pump faster, and increase your heart rate as a result.

What does this look like in everyday life? Well, say that you’re sitting at your desk and get a quick twinge of chest pain and notice your pulse racing. It may not even be a lot, but just enough to make you worry about what it could mean. This is when you start questioning the health of your heart.

Your stress turns into worry, which causes anxiety. Now, your limbic system (emotional brain) kicks in and excites the nerves of your heart, so your heart speeds up even more. That’s “emotion based” tachycardia.

A strong emotional reaction can indeed cause tachycardia. It’s normal, and absent disease, isn’t dangerous.

Chances are that if you’ve had tachycardia you’ve sought medical attention for it. Maybe you did an EKG, blood tests, stress test, holter monitor, etc. Still, you stay scared. But you don’t have to be.

A Different View of Tachycardia

Think of it this way. Anxiety is an indicator of stress. Tachycardia is part of that stress signal. Where do you think all your worry, fear, and stress goes? It certainly doesn’t evaporate into the ether. Instead, those negative emotions are manifested in your body.

But that in no way means that your rapid heart beat is set to kill you. It just means that you’re affected by your emotional experiences. Stress and anxiety are charged, live wire, reactions to months or even years of internal strife. Your heart is reacting to that discord.

The other piece is that your past experience already tells you that a fast heart beat isn’t the killer you think it is. How many times have you experienced a rapid heart rate? And of those times how many ended in injury or death? None right?

So really what you’re dealing with is the anticipation of something awful happening and not with what is likely to happen.

That doesn’t mean that your fearful assumptions aren’t powerful. They can be strong.

This, however, doesn’t change the fact that stress triggers tachycardia in the same way, every time. It’s an old dog with no new tricks. The challenge is to learn how to sit with that reality and accept it when it’s happening.

That will take practice and a certain level of courage, but what’s the alternative?

If you haven’t gone to your doctor then go get screened. Twice if it makes you feel better. After that though, you need to get your mind focused on stress reduction and not anxiety symptoms.

Symptoms are a sign of something bigger that needs to be dealt with, they aren’t the source of your pain. And, most importantly, they can’t kill you.

 

 Disclaimer

Although tachycardia can be caused by an emotional response to stress, your tachycardia should be evaluated medically.

Tachycardia can be related to serious medical conditions.

 

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  • Oron

    Great job writing articles on symptoms because like myself the symptoms can get really bad and can last for hours/days. We all think we have the worst symptoms and nobody can understand. Turns out you understand and most people who think they nobody has symptoms as bad as themselves read these articles and have a new understanding they arent alone.

  • Bryan3000

    Great advice and very important reminders. Thanks Paul!

  • http://anxietyguru.net Paul Dooley

    Thanks Bryan. Nice to see you back at AG!

  • solo lolo

    Thanks – this was very helpful. After 50 years of a racing heart ( I have a 3rd kidney and the xtra adrenaline works for and against me) I look forward to thinking about the beat, beat, fast beats of my heart in a different way.

  • Sammy

    How come some studies said that anxiety and panic attack cause heart diseases?

  • Sammy

    It’s really is a good reminder to people with anxiety and panic attack.

  • http://anxietyguru.net Paul Dooley

    Hi Sammy, anxiety and panic aren’t the cause of heart disease. The culprit is stress. Stress does kill in the long-run, so I hope that’s motivation to get your stress levels under control.

  • Sammy

    Thanks for saying I’m keep all these crazy sensation in my chest thanking it’s my heart doctor said my is fine I’m young not to worried about plus I have body weakness that made me scare I want that thing to go away.

  • Susan

    Hi Paul I’m always worry about my heart I done 20 time ECG within two and a half years 24 hour holter monitor it’s funny coz I’m not beleiving doctors so my heart is ok, so everytime I feel pain I related to heart so it’s realy bothering me but the good thing is I joined the gym to keep going in the life maybe I can can feel better
    Is that a good idea Paul
    Thanjs

  • Susan

    You make me feel better Paul coz always I think tachycardia is part if heart desease
    Thanks

  • Desiree

    Thank you for this, because I have suffered with a fast heartbeat and palpitations for over 20 years now. I have had enough of it, and am always looking for ways to calm myself down.

  • http://anxietysolutionscenter.com/anxiety Cameron

    Great post…Its really important that people understand the many symptoms of anxiety… I know for my experience anyway that unusual bodily sensations just make the anxiety and panic worst ..your always in fear of possibly having a heart attack and have a your hand on your pulse or heart all the time

    Sometimes just reading the words of someone who has been there can be relieving in itself…The best tip of all is to visit the doctor and remove the fear of a possible medical condition….from there you can focus on the stress/anxiety/

    Cheers
    Cameron
    Northern Austalia

  • Susan

    Hi Cameron thanks got ur advice I’m from Australia too (Melbourne) do u feel any pain in ur body like upper back pain radiate to the front cuz I was complain to my docs about like I list above go couple time for ECG and nothing showing my heart is not fine but I don’t beleive doctors cuz of my pain don’t know what to do in seeing psycologist it help but when I have the pain in thinking its my heart and the thought of death fi u experience something like that please give advice
    Wish we can talk soon

  • Vanessa Zapatero

    How many times does/can a panic person experience this symptoms?

  • erinkar

    Hi….I just stumbled onto this post and it was really helpful. My questions is this: how long can these episodes last if they’re anxiety-related? I had a racing heart rate for 20 hours the last time. Thanks!

  • http://www.anxietyguru.net/ Paul Dooley

    It could go on indefinitely. If you’re unsure about your health/safety please speak with a doctor.

  • Mark

    Hi I tried cocaine about 12 months ago and ended up having it most weekends 1 weekend I had it I ha to pace round my gArden having fast heartbeats and feeling faint ever since then I have never had it but I can still feel the heart racing I’ve been docs and hospital had all the tests and they are fine but all this time it still carries on will it stay like that forever it happens 3 times a week at the least