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Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Irregular Heartbeat?


The words stress and anxiety have never been so commonly used in the past than in the last few years. Stress and anxiety go hand in hand and are spreading into our lives like an epidemic. One thing can lead to another and vice versa. A prolonged exposure to stressful situations may soon change into an anxiety disorder. And, if one already suffers from a clinical condition of anxiety, it will ultimately lead to more stress.

Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

There is a very fine but clear difference between the two terms- stress and anxiety. Stress is a way our mind and body respond to any difficult or unpleasant situation. It is more dependent on external factors, like any financial problem, tension in the family, bad news, unsafe environment, long working hours, the difficult atmosphere at the workplace, poor health, or something like that. Usually, the stress would go away as soon as the factor or reason behind it fades.

Anxiety is not just a response. It is a condition and also a disorder, that develops after one has gone through severe painful events, deep tragedy or discomfort for a very long time. What makes it even worse is that unlike stress, anxiety is not purely dependent on the cause or negative situation. It has been observed that even when the painful cause or situation disappears, the anxiety may still persist and eventually cause further stress.

Symptoms of Stress

Stress affects our body and mind at multiple levels. The peculiar symptoms may sometimes be very dominant and indicate a high-reaction from our bodily system.

Physical Symptoms

A person who is suffering from stress would naturally feel low energy. It may be accompanied by a headache, pains, and tense muscles. The stress may also show if one has a constant or a frequent cough and cold. An upset digestive system, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea is another way of our body to respond to stress.

Other severe indications are a combination of chest pain and rapid heartbeat, insomnia, lack of sexual desire, dry mouth, sweaty hands and feet, and shaking of the body.

Emotional Reactions

A stressed person would more easily become irritated, and have frequent mood swings. Some of the other emotional reactions are feeling overwhelmed, inability to stay calm or relaxed, which also extend to low confidence, low self-esteem, feeling lonely and worthless all the time. The person may also develop depression and try to avoid meeting other people.

Mental Changes

The mental changes caused due to stress are an uncontrolled flow of thoughts, lack of focus, poor decision-making, and constant worrying. The person would also have a shorter attention span and weak memory while his/her attitude would turn into a pessimistic mode.

Behavioral Symptoms

Binge eating or anorexia are also the results of constant stress. If the person has been consuming alcohol or taking drugs, the habit may worsen during difficult times. This would lead to procrastination and frustration. Other changed behaviors are nail-biting and fidgeting.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Now because anxiety is a result of chronic stress, the symptoms are also of more serious and permanent nature.

Physical Symptoms

The most common physical indicators are a pounding heart, poor digestive system, twitching of muscles, trembling, and chest pain. One would also experience frequent headaches, dizziness, a problem in breathing, nausea, sleep loss, sweating, and stomach cramps.

Emotional Reactions

At emotional levels, there would be a feeling of dread. One would mostly be looking out for some unknown danger, or getting in the loop of negative anticipation.

Mental Changes

An overwhelming feeling of a panic attack or loss of control may rise up. There would be lack of concentration, blank mind, tension, and irritation.

Behavioral Symptoms

There are equal chances of feeling emotionally cold, detached, or neutral. A feeling of faintness may also show up.

Relationship between Stress, Anxiety and an Irregular Heartbeat

In the normal scenario, an irregular heartbeat may be caused due to many known and unknown reasons. And not all the times is the case harmful. Sometimes, our heart may beat irregularly for a moment without posing any serious threat to our life and health. But, at other times, and erratic heart rate can be a symptom of grave health issues.

A haphazard beating of heart happens in two ways. Either the heart may skip a beat or might beat rapidly with an abnormally high heart rate. Both are the cases of an irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia.

Stress and anxiety contribute to arrhythmia in two manners.

Adrenaline Rush

When faced with difficult situations, our mind and body immediately rush into flight or fight mode. This is how human body deals with stress and anxiety.

The flight or fight mode represents an instant flush of adrenaline. The adrenaline is responsible for causing the heart to beat faster than normal as in order to escape the threat the body needs more blood in less time. To make up for that supply, the heart pumps faster and the heartbeat increases to an irregular amount, causing arrhythmia.

Rapid Breathing

Another term for rapid breathing is hyperventilation. Rapid breathing happens when we are under severe stress or going through a panic attack. This condition may look like we are choking and need more oxygen to cope up with the real or unreal dangers.

Henceforth, what the body does is, it tries to expel out the carbon dioxide flowing in our blood and replace it with more oxygen. The only way to make this work is by increasing the breathing rate.

In order to send the oxygen to every body part, the heart has to perform rapidly and pump the oxygenated blood at an increased rate, again resulting in arrhythmia.

However, most of the time, an arrhythmia caused due to stress and anxiety is mostly harmless. But that doesn’t mean one should take these frequent sessions of arrhythmia lightly. If you feel that your body is showing the symptoms of irregular heart rate, then meeting a doctor and immediately following the prescribed suggestions would save you from a lot of serious health issues.

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Message from Sophia!

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Regards, Sophia
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