You are shaking like a leaf, your palms are getting sweaty, your breathing has become strained, and... your heart is racing a mile a minute.
Why is this happening? This is happening because you are giving a presentation in front of your college classroom of ninety other students, plus the professor. The class will be judging your every word, you are afraid of stuttering, or worse - forgetting your train of thought and going completely 'blank' in the middle of the speech.
You had a long, rough day. As soon as you got to work, you spilled your morning coffee all over your new blouse, your boss was being more unreasonable than usual, and you overheard your coworkers saying some not-so-nice things behind your back. Then to top it all off, on your way home some complete ‘idiot’ rammed into your car. You cannot stand it anymore; you explode in rage. You get out of your car; slam the car door shut and start screaming at the guy who ran into your car. While you are screaming, you notice that your face is heating in anger, and your heart is starting to race...
You and your family decided to go on a camping trip. Being new to camping, you didn’t think to check about the possibilities of wild animals roaming around your campsite. Nevertheless, as you and your family start getting settled, a bear comes out of nowhere. This bear can kill you! You are frightened for your life and for the life of your entire family. You better believe your heart is racing at this point!
It is 7am, as per your routine it is time for you to head on down to the gym to start off your morning. You get on the treadmill. After a five-minute warm-up of walking at a sedate pace, you adjust the machine to the point where you are jogging. Soon enough you realize that you are sweating, your face is getting pink, your breathing is becoming labored, and your heart rate is getting faster. All the symptoms of a good exercise workout...
What the Scenarios had in Common
The above scenarios all had one thing in common. In each scenario, your heart began to race. Whether you were nervous because you had to give a presentation, angry because of a terrible day, frightened for your life, or exercising, each situation was a trigger for your heart to start pounding. So why does this occur?
The Fight/Flight Response
The fight or flight response is a natural, biological response to a dangerous situation. For the sake of your survival, your body starts gearing up to either run away from the situation, or to fight it. This is why the heart starts racing in situations where a menacing bear is in close proximity.
Interestingly enough, in the scenario where you were giving a presentation, the racing of your heart was also due to the fight or flight response, even though you were not in any real life threatening danger. In situations that make you very nervous, your body starts believing that it really is in danger, even though it certainly is not. This should provide some perspective as to how to stop your heart from racing in non-life threatening situations. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and tell yourself that everything is going to be okay. You are safe.
When you are angry and your heart starts racing, this is also due to the fight or flight response. The keyword here is ‘fight.’ So when you are about to yell or punch someone, be prepared for a quickened heart rate, as it is a symptom of your body gearing up for a fight.
When you exercise, your muscles require more oxygen, so the heart must pump harder and faster in order to supply the needs of the muscles. The more ‘in shape’ you are, the easier of a time your heart has with this job. This is what occurred in the scenario where you went on the treadmill and your heart began to get quicker.
Anxiety, anger, and exercise are all factors that increase heart rate. If you find that your heart is racing when at rest, and are neither nervous nor angry, be sure to see your medical provider. Your racing heart can be due to dehydration, a medication you are on, or you might have a condition known as Tachnicardia. All of this can be treated if a medical provider is alerted at once.