How Journaling Can Stop Heart Palpitations Caused by Anxiety
You wake up startled, dripping with sweat. You touch your neck, and your heart is beating wildly. It feels like your body is vibrating from the strength of your heartbeats. You change quickly into clothes and fumble, trying to find your car keys to get to the hospital.
After agonizing stoplights and slow traffic, you have arrived at the emergency room. You receive your diagnosis… a panic attack.
Panic attacks make people believe they are in danger or about to die. They replicate similar feelings of a heart attack. On a smaller scale, heart palpitations create this feeling of dread and recognizing you might die. With all mental health illnesses, it isn't an illness that only affects your mind, but you will have a physical reaction to the stimuli.
Anxiety is a general feeling of nervousness and waiting for the metaphorical other shoe to drop. You know something terrible is going to happen, but you are not sure when. Anxiety physical symptoms can come in the form of chronic muscle tension, fatigue, nausea, vertigo depending on a panic attack, weight gain or loss, migraines, you might experience shortness of breath, or excessive sweating. Anxiety can also manifest in the form of heart palpitations.
Heart palpitations can come in the form of loud pounding that you can hear, racing where you can't catch your breath, and you might even feel the experience of your heart skipping a beat due to anxiety distress. It is best to check to make sure you do not have a heart condition called arrhythmia to ensure that you do not have a pre-existing condition that might make your heart palpitations worse.
Anxiety and Heart Palpitations
General generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and other anxiety-related disorders can be caused by various factors from genetics, biology, upbringing, general personality, and different facets. Anxiety is when the fight, flight, or freeze goes into overdrive, imagining ill events in the future, shame from the past, or can happen in real-time like second-guessing what you said in a conversation or perfectionism.
As mentioned before, anxiety doesn't just live in your head. It affects your entire body but can relate to the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It is the same system that helps our bodies live without our conscious thinking. The ANS relates to our lungs, heart, digestive system, and other aspects that keep us alive. For instance, you do not create a conscious effort to breathe every time or force your stomach to produce bile for digestion.
Our bodies can go into autopilot mode. When our bodies are in a high-stress situation, our brain recognizes this as a threat to our safety, creating the fight, flight, or freeze response. So, when we are stressed and scared, our body will increase our heart rate to warm up our muscles to run or fight the threat, and our brain becoming hypervigilant because we feel like there is a reason for our anxiety, but we are unsure of where it is.
Heart palpitations create a crystallization of anxiety because a person with anxiety will begin to have heart palpitations but then develop more anxiety about the heart palpitations because they are worried they might fall ill or die. It is a vicious cycle with anxiety because, if untreated, it can dominate aspects of your life in fear or create harmful coping mechanisms like drinking, smoking, or substance abuse.
Every person's anxiety looks different.
No anxiety diagnosis looks alike. While Susie might lash out in anger, Davonte might quietly pick at his cuticles and have a nervous foot. With a variety of coping mechanisms and backgrounds, no diagnosis is alike. With anxiety, imagine it is the main route to a wide array of illnesses from PTSD, phobias, eating disorders, and others.
When your fight, flight, or freeze is activated, your autonomic nervous system starts to kick into overdrive to help get you away from the threat. Your heart palpitations will make you feel like you can't catch a breath as your expedited heart rate results in rapid breathing. Due to your heart rate increasing exponentially, you will begin to sweat as your body attempts to cool you down once your muscles have been activated. Muscles will start to engage in tension as they are waiting for impact. All of this will make you incredibly exhausted because your body is spending precious energy.
Due to exhaustion and your body acting out in a stress response, some people diagnosed with anxiety will not want to go out of their comfort zone because their anxiety makes them believe that being outside is dangerous. Anxiety is debilitating because the person logically knows that the intrusive thoughts are not real. Still, with their body reacting in such a decisive manner, some people can confuse anxiety with intuition/ listening to their gut. Thus, they do not want to go anywhere because they feel like they are being protected when anxiety wants to hold them back.
Increased Causes for Anxiety and Heart Palpitations
Some substances increase levels of anxiety and heart palpitations:
- Alcohol- When you are under the influence, you become more sensitive to suggestions. Alcohol is a depressant, and if there is a sudden shift in the party or intrusive thought, alcohol can make a person with anxiety spiral. Alcohol thins your blood and makes your heart need to beat even faster to keep the same level of blood supply as if you were sober.
- Caffeine- Everyone has a range of caffeine consumption, from drinking four energy drinks and sleeping like a baby to having one sip of a soda and being up all night. This is one of the primary reasons I stopped drinking caffeine due to its effects on my anxiety levels (I am the latter). Caffeine speeds up the anxiety responses ten-fold; in Veleber and Templer's 1984 study, anxiety increased with the more caffeine the participants drank. In addition, in Richards and Smith's 2015 study, the more an individual drinks caffeine, the higher likelihood of having anxiety and depression. Caffeine naturally sped up your heart rate and partnered with anxiety, and the individual will feel increased heart palpitations.
- Sugar-Similar to caffeine, sugar, like in chocolate, can increase anxiety levels because it increases our energy. When your body receives this increase in energy out of nowhere, your body gets excited; if a person has anxiety, this becomes nervousness or anxiety. To read more about anxiety, heart palpitations, and the adverse effects of sugar, click here. I recommend dark chocolate if you enjoy sugar and chocolate; you can enjoy a sweet treat while helping your brain.
- Medicine- Double-edged sword, medications can make you have heart palpitations, including antipsychotics that could try to treat one's anxiety.
Helping Heal Anxiety
Some people are lucky and have anxious moments, such as if you are nervous about a job interview or a first date, you might experience some anxiety levels. It can be best for people with chronic anxiety to see your primary care physician or meet our coaches at JournalOwl to start gaining back control of your life.
Experiencing anxiety is an exhausting experience; you do not have to do this all on your own. Meeting with your JournalOwl coach creates a more mindful approach to understanding your anxiety and soothing your heart palpitations.
Journaling is a helpful self-soothing coping mechanism that provides you with the practice of mindfulness, and by partnering with JournalOwl, you can receive professional help at a fraction of the cost.
How to begin journaling with JournalOwl
We have compiled a few tips to help make the most of the JournalOwl experience and help you better navigate your healing.
- Consistency is Key- It can be difficult depending on your mood, but you need to be consistent with your writing by writing for a few minutes each day for your healing. It is best to write around the time each day. For example, during the morning to start your day or right when you are about to sleep.
- Simplicity- You can create your own secret diary and journal by taking some of the steps here! Finding a nice pen to write all of your thoughts is helpful to have a smooth, streamlined thought process instead of getting frustrated if your pen is out of ink. Another great tool could be using your notes section in your smartphone to write on the go. There are more benefits to writing on paper because you can retain more information and not hurt your eyes with the painful blue light produced by screens.
- Whatever you are feeling, you write it! Writing in your journal does not have to be a big to-do. It can flow or be fickle depending on how you feel because each day isn't set in stone. One day you can use magazine clippings to describe your mood or write poetry about some of your anxiety to romanticize an aspect of your life. Spelling or grammatical errors do not count in your journal; it only exists to explain your feelings.
Journaling helps you list the issues you have, such as fears of public speaking or a worry that the workplace bully might say something that would hurt your feelings. It keeps you and your anxiety accountable by documenting what happened in the day and recognizing what aspects of your anxiety increase depending on the event. You begin to create a road map of your symptoms to better control and manage them. Finally, your intrusive thoughts have no power here. You can speak to yourself with love and compassion and identifying some negative patterns that have self-sabotaged you in the past.
JournalOwl coaching utilizes a mixed-method approach by meeting with a trained professional and journaling on your own. You can begin your healing journey with the guidance of a coach, and you are feeling accomplished because you are writing every day to beat your anxiety symptoms and decrease your heart palpitations.
Co-morbidity of Heart Palpitations and Anxiety
Co-morbidity in the scientific community means when you have more than one illness that might be hindering your mental and physical health. With anxiety and showcasing itself through physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, it is essential to make sure that you are aware that anxiety is the only cause of the palpitations and not other severe conditions.
If heart palpitations occur during anxiety attacks or heightened anxiety events such as a job interview, you do not need to disclose this to your doctor. You need to consult a medical professional when the palpitations last for hours at a time or are hindering your day-to-day life.
There could be times that your heart palpitations occur without a just cause or have any underlying anxiety. If this is the case, we strongly recommend going to your primary care provider or a cardiologist. Your heart palpitations can be the causation of medication like any sort of change. Heart palpitations can also be caused by low blood pressure, underlying heart condition, problems with your thyroid, or anemia.
Your primary care provider or cardiologist will probably order a few of the listed below tests to understand the cause of your heart palpitations. The initial appointment will start with them listening to your chest and other basic physical examinations. If they do not find a reason, they will use one or more of the diagnostic tools.
An electrocardiogram is a simple test that measures your heart's activity through electrodes. Every time it beats, your heart sends an electrical signal to show how many beats have occurred and make sure you have a consistent heart rhythm.
The next step will be to use the Holter monitoring system, which you wear for three days or more, to record your heart rate. It will show any changes to give your doctor more understanding of your heart during this time frame.
If, in the three days, the doctor does not see a heart palpitation, they will resort to event recording. The event recording might be used for weeks, but you are in control of what is sent to your cardiologist, so you can report it to your doctor if you are feeling a heart murmur.
Anxiety is a physical and mental illness affecting your heart, lungs, digestive system, and mind. Heart palpitation of anxiety does not have to be something that you live with forever. You can take the following steps for your health by journaling with JournalOwl and limit your symptoms through awareness and mindfulness.
About Emily Ruiz, MA
Emily Ruiz is a contributor of JournalOwl with a passion for spreading mental health awareness. She believes that mental health topics are instrumental in creating change. She enjoys writing about PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other arrays of topics by adding an emotional feel to her writing.
Before joining the JournalOwl team, Emily received her Masters in Communication with a focus in healthcare advocacy at East Carolina University in North Carolina. She has assisted organizations teaching social skills to children who are autistic and ADHD and teaching mindfulness to teenagers with BPD and who are high-risk self-harm and suicide. Emily created a training module for a non-profit equestrian therapy, Difference instead of Disability, for her independent study during her master’s program.
Emily and her husband are North Carolina natives who enjoy traveling, exploring, and general shenanigans with one another. They foster and rescue animals in their free time. She enjoys riding horses, theatre, and reading.
JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.