Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/18/2021
If you’re one of the 40 million American adults who deal with an anxiety disorder, you may have experienced a racing heart as a result.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, if you have a hard time controlling your anxiety a majority of the time over a period of six months, you have GAD.
But just because an elevated heart rate is one of the common symptoms of anxiety, it doesn’t mean it’s not scary. In fact, when you notice this side effect, it could make you feel even more anxious.
Keep reading for ways to slow down your rapid heart rate. But first, find out why it happens.
Anxiety can impact your body’s stress response. Translation: your body may react like it’s under a real threat, even though it’s not. That’s because anxiety triggers your fight or flight response.
In turn, this triggers a release of certain hormones in your body and increased blood flow may occur — this can speed up your heart rate and increase your blood pressure.
Back in caveman days, this burst of energy and rise in blood pressure could help people thwart a predator.
But today, we don’t often need this response — especially if it’s not brought on by a real bodily threat.
Many times, all it’s really good for is making us feel like we’re having a heart attack.
Okay, now you have a basic understanding of why anxiety may spike your heart rate. But how can you bring it back under control? A slow heart rate — or a slow-er heart rate, all things considered — is crucial.
The key to that is to lessen your anxiety.
Here are two things you can do in the moment to quell anxious thoughts:
According to a 2014 study, just 20 minutes of mindful meditation may decrease anxiety by reducing overall brain activity.
Findings from more than 47 randomized clinical trials published by John Hopkins also seem to support this. The trials found that meditation can assist people in coping with anxiety and stress.
Mindful meditation is centered around awareness and acceptance.
While practicing mindful meditation, you focus on being aware of what is happening in the moment — like how your body feels or breathing patterns. You should also accept whatever thoughts come into your head and let them go at your own pace.
Breathing exercises may also help deal with feelings of anxiety. The reason: breathing affects key parts of our bodies that help regulate emotional well being — like the amygdala.
The goal is to focus on your breathing so that you stay in the moment, especially if you’re having an anxiety attack, of which shortness of breath is a symptom.
You can concentrate on the way the deep breath feels as it flows through your nose while you inhale and out your mouth during an exhale.
Pay attention to how well your stomach goes in and out as you breathe, too.
A few minutes of this and you may just start to notice your anxiety dissipating and your heart rate coming down.
While dealing with a racing heart in the moment will work, your goal should be to eliminate as much anxiety as possible so your heart doesn’t get to that higher rate.
Luckily, there are many ways you can approach treating your anxiety. Here are some of the most effective:
Psychotherapy is a common way to treat anxiety, but there’s an array of different types. So, you’ll want to utilize online mental health services to determine the type of therapy that will work for you. Here are some of the types they may recommend:
Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying patterns and behaviors that may lead to anxiety and using problem-solving skills to cope.
Exposure therapy has people confront their fears in a safe environment. It has been shown to help with GAD.
Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of CBT originally used for people with borderline personality disorder. Research shows it also works for anxiety.
Interpersonal therapy means you’ll be asked to overcome interpersonal issues that may affect mental health and cause anxiety — like a tricky romantic relationship or tough family dynamic.
Psychodynamic therapy focuses on past issues that may contribute to current feelings or dynamics.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
A healthcare professional can help determine if medication can help you deal with anxiety by looking at like any other medical conditions you have, your medical history, any other medical conditions you might have, etc.
There are also some life habits that may help ease anxiety.
Regular Exercise: Breaking a sweat on a regular basis may help boost your mood and tame anxiety.
Healthy Eating: A diet filled with fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein may encourage a lower risk of developing anxiety. But what you don’t eat is important, too. According to research, excessive amounts of caffeine can worsen anxiety. So, you may want to skip that second cup of coffee.
Sleeping well: Bad sleep and anxiety go hand in hand. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that people who deal with chronic sleep issues are at a high risk to develop an anxiety disorder. Try to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
When your heart starts to race because of anxiety, it can be worrisome and overwhelming.
Thankfully, there are relaxation techniques you can try in the moment to slow your heart rate down — like meditating or deep breathing.
But the best way to ensure that your heart rate doesn’t continue to spike over time is to deal with your anxiety.
From online therapy to medication, there are a number of things you can do to deal with anxiety.
To determine what is right for you, speak with a mental health professional about your anxiety symptoms.