“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Racing Heart Palpitations Anxiety Symptoms

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: September 16, 2019


racing heart anxiety symptoms

Racing heart, also known as heart palpitations, can include skipped, missed, and unevenly spaced heart beats; racing heart; and pounding heart are often symptoms of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and others.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your heart-related symptoms, you can rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test or Anxiety Disorder Test. The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to heart-related anxiety symptoms.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and racing heart symptoms.

Racing Heart Palpitations Anxiety Symptom Description:

Heart palpitations are the feeling of having rapid and racing heart beats.

The racing heart palpitations anxiety symptoms can also feel like fluttering, skipped, missed, or uneven heartbeats.

It can also feel as if your heart is pounding unusually hard in your chest (also described as thumping or pounding heart).

You might experience one of these symptoms, a combination, or all of them.

All of these descriptions are encompassed under the symptom "heart palpitations."

This symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you might feel racing, thumping, or irregular heartbeats once in a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.

This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

This symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This symptom can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

These types of symptoms can seem more pronounced when undistracted or when trying to rest or go to sleep.

What causes racing heart palpitations?

Medical Advisory

We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning anxiety symptoms be discussed with your doctor as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms, including this anxiety symptom. If your doctor concludes your symptoms are solely anxiety-related, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause. Generally, doctors can easily determine the difference between anxiety symptoms and those caused by a medical condition.

Doctors aren't infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you can seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions agree, you can be assured anxiety is the cause of this symptom.

While heart palpitations may seem like a cause for concern, most are harmless.

There are many causes of heart palpitations:

  • A lack of sleep/sleep disruption
  • An electrolyte abnormality - for example, low potassium
  • Anxiety, anxiety disorder
  • Being out of shape
  • Consuming alcohol
  • Dehydration
  • Dietary supplements such as ephedra, ginseng, bitter orange, valerian, or hawthorn
  • Exercise
  • Fever
  • Hormone fluctuations (due to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause)
  • Hyperventilation
  • Ingesting stimulants (caffeine, chocolate, diet pills, energy boosters)
  • Lower than normal blood sugar (from not eating regularly)
  • Low levels of oxygen in the blood
  • Smoking (nicotine)
  • Standing up
  • Some prescription and over-the-counter medications (including some cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine, asthma drugs, beta-blockers, and anti-arrhythmics, to name a few)
  • Some recreational drugs (such as cocaine)
  • Stress

In rare cases, heart palpitations can be caused by an underlying medical condition. Therefore, we recommend you discuss this symptom with your doctor to rule out all other causes.

As for racing heart symptoms and anxiety, behaving anxiously activates the stress response. The stress response immediately causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.[1][2]

Part of the stress response changes include stimulating the heart rate to circulate blood throughout the body so that it is better equipped to deal with a threat. This sudden stimulation action can cause racing heart symptoms as the body gears up for emergency action.

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. When stress responses occur too frequently, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering. This can leave the body in a semi emergency readiness state, which we call stress-response hyperstimulation since stress hormones are stimulants.

Hyperstimulation can cause the body to exhibit similar sensations and symptoms to that of an active stress response even though an active stress response hasn’t occurred.[3][4]

Racing heart and other heart palpitation symptoms are examples of how the body can react when it becomes hyperstimulated (chronically stressed).

How to get rid of racing, irregular, and pounding heart palpitations?

When heart palpitations are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, heart palpitations should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When a racing heart is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), it can take a lot longer for the body to recover, and to the point where a racing heart rate and other palpitation symptoms are eliminated.

Nevertheless, when the body has recovered from an active stress response or from the adverse effects of hyperstimulation, a racing heart and other heart palpitation symptoms subside. Therefore, anxiety- and stress-caused heart palpitations needn’t be a cause for concern. They are common.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about anxiety- and stress-caused heart palpitations. Sure, they can be unsettling and even bothersome. But again, when your body has recovered from the stress response or hyperstimulation, anxiety- and stress-caused racing heart and other heart palpitation symptoms will cease.

For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms including this one, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


Additional Resources:


Return to Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/therapy for problematic anxiety and its symptoms, including the anxiety symptom racing heart and palpitations.


REFERENCES:

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response" - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

2. Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.

3. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.