Sweating, pounding heart rate, tight chest, lightheadedness: You might think you’re having a heart attack, but it could very well be an anxiety attack.
Feeling anxious every now and then is perfectly normal. In fact, worrying can push you to take positive action that can actually benefit your health, such as getting screening tests or doing regular exercise. Excessive worrying, however, has the opposite effect and can negatively impact your heart health.
You may have felt anxious in many situations, both good and bad: addressing or being in a group, expecting good news, during a job interview, driving in traffic or trying to meet a deadline. Anxiety increases your breathing and heart rate, concentrating blood flow to your brain, where you need it. Chronic anxiety, however, can interfere with your quality of life.
While perhaps most recognized for behavioral changes, anxiety can also cause serious consequences on your physical health. You might experience a dramatic increase in your heart rate in situations that are not fight or flight scenarios, which can lead to poor cardiovascular health in previously healthy people.
Anxiety disorders can cause rapid heart rate, palpitations and chest pain, and may put you at an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. If you already have heart disease, anxiety disorders may increase your risk of coronary events. Episodes of anxiety can also cause dramatic, temporary spikes in your blood pressure. If you experience those temporary spikes frequently, such as every day, they can cause damage to your blood vessels, heart and kidneys.
Anxiety may be associated with the following heart disorders and cardiac risk factors:
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia): In serious cases, anxiety can interfere with your normal heart function and increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
- Increased blood pressure: If chronic, anxiety can cause coronary disease or heart failure and weaken the muscle.
- Decreases heart rate variability: Chronic anxiety may lead to a higher incidence of death after an acute heart attack.
When someone is anxious, their body reacts in ways that can put extra strain on their heart. The physical symptoms of anxiety can be especially damaging for people who have existing cardiac disease. While small amounts of anxiety and stress can spur people to be more productive, the problem occurs when anxiety becomes so overwhelming that you’re unable to function normally and/or carry out daily tasks.
The following methods are ways to cope with and manage anxiety attacks.
- Practice focused, deep breathing
- Write down your thoughts
- Slowly count to 10
- Talk to someone
If you are experiencing anxiety that you are unable to manage on your own, speak with your doctor about treatment options. Prioritize your heart and mental health to ensure a long and happy life.
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