The Real Reason for Palpitations

This post is for informational purposes only.  Please seek appropriate medical care for any medical symptoms. See website disclaimer for more information.

-Charlyce

What’s really making your heart race?

Palpitations should never be ignored. Sensations of skipping or jumping in the chest can sensations caused by palpitations. Many people will also associate palpitations with a feeling of throbbing in the neck or head.  Even more alarming, some individuals note chest pain during episodes of palpitations.

After you’ve had a careful evaluation with your physician, and know  that a medical condition is not the cause of your palpitations, you should consider what your body is trying to tell you. What’s the real reason for your palpitaitons?

How to Find Your Heart Rate

A normal heart rate is between 60 and 90 beats per minute. Individuals with a high level of physical fitness will tend to have a lower heart rate at rest. Women, especially pregnant women, will have a faster heart rate at rest that typically does not represent any problems.

Heart Rate Variability is a measure of how the heart rate changes with breath. This exciting topic is the next step in wellness, as it is a valuable way to measure how well the Autonomic Nervous System is working.

You can easily check your heart rate with no fancy equipment.

Basic Pulse Measurement

  • Set a timer for 15 or 30 seconds
  • Use the forefinger and middle finger of your non-dominant hand (the hand you don’t write with) to find the pulse on the opposite wrist.
  • The Radial Pulse is located on the wrist on the same side as your thumb.
  • If you do not initially feel a pulse, try using less pressure.
  • At the end of the timer, multiply by 4 if you used 15 seconds, by 2 if you used 30 seconds
    • #beats in 15 seconds X 4=heart rate per minute
    • #beats in 30 seconds X2=heart rate per minute

Using A Pulse Oximeter

A pulse oximeter, which is available online and in stores, uses infrared light to measure the color of red blood cells. This is allows for measurement of oxygen content in the blood. These devices will also record a pulse when placed on a finger.

EKG

EKG, or Electrocardiogram, measures how electrical signals travel through the heart. EKG’s are usually done in a medical office, but advances in technology allow for a simplified EKG to be done with smartphones or similar portable devices at home.

Why Are You Having Palpitations?

Once you’ve had a careful workup with a physician to make sure there is no serious cause of your palpitations, then it’s time to start listening to your body.

Your heart rate ( and heart rate variability) are a great way for you to learn what’s going on with you Autonomic Nervous System.

Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System brings balance to the mind and body.

Here are 6 Ways to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Overactive Sympathetic Nervous System

The Vagus Nerve and the nervous system inside the heart (called the Purkinje System) determine the heart rate. This system takes input from the Vagus nerve. The heart rate is determined by the coordination of the Vagus Nerve and Purkinje System. A fast heart rate is one signal that you may have an imbalance in your Autonomic Nervous System.

Why is this important?

The Sympathetic Nervous Systems is designed to prepare the body for quick action. This is great when it’s time to run, hide, seek shelter, or have quick reflexes. If the Sympathetic Nervous system is too active, it creates chronic stress, which can lead to illness.

The simplest way to balance the activity of the Sympathetic Nervous System is with Meditation.

Start your Meditation Journey Today.

21-Day Meditation Journey book is now available on Amazon!

Lack of High Quality Sleep

Many of my patients come to the office immediately after being seen in the emergency room for palpitations. Naturally, they may have waited several hours to be seen, and often have not slept. If they went in for palpitations, they are often shocked to feel much worse after being up all night.

When you don’t sleep enough, of the quality of sleep is poor, there are several changes that happen within your body that will lead to an elevated heart rate.

Your brain performs many background tasks during sleep. This allows the two most powerful glands, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, to sample the blood stream and produce appropriate hormone levels to maintain health.

Lack of sleep creates stress signals in other glands, including the adrenal glands. This leads to the autonomic system diverting energy to the Sympathetic Nervous System. The heart rate will naturally begin to run higher than normal.

There are many ways to improve your sleep. Body Scan Meditation is a fantastic way to relax at bedtime.

Poor Quality Breathing

“The first step toward inner listening, and one of the best ways to shift to maintaining open and present awareness, is to connect our awareness to breath. I call this creating the ‘friendship’ of breath awareness. Our breathing has been a friend that has accompanied us through every moment of life; it has never deserted us no matter how terrible we have felt”

Moss, 2007

We take breath for granted. Most of us don’t realize how we are breathing as we go through our days. When driving, for example, so much of the brain must be devoted to safety and awareness of other cars. It seems impossible to take notice if how often and how deeply we inhale.

I consider poor quality breathing as shallow, rapid breaths usually in the setting of sitting with poor posture.

Rapid, shallow breaths that don’t use the full expansion of the chest leads to an elevated heart rate. The organs of the chest will send signals to the brain via that Vagus Nerve that create a stress signal. This leads to a gradual rise in feelings of anxiety and feeling unwell. The brain will then transmit signals to the chest that will drive up the heart rate.

Improve your breathing instantly by improving your postures:

Habitual Worry

The last thing you want to hear when you are worried about something, or many things, is “Just don’t worry about it”.

It feels likes worrying will help the problem. Maybe there will be a solution if you keep thinking about it?

5 Reiki Precepts

“Do Not Worry” is one of the 5 Reiki Precepts. This is because worry lowers your mind and body’s energy. Worry is recycling of thoughts without action.

In your life, consider how many times worrying lead to a solution. Likely, it has not.

Your feelings about the issue deserve attention. Consider journaling to help with worry thoughts. The act of writing down what weighs heavy in your heart can alleviate the need to recycle those thoughts endlessly.

Lack of Cardiovascular Fitness

It’s good to stay in a relaxed, open state as much as possible. Particularly, if you’re trying to sleep, eat, have sex or just stay in the moment.

Our bodies are designed to take on challenge. If we don’t activate the Sympathetic Nervous System on a regular basis, it may kick in on it’s own. When it does, your heart rate will go up in an unregulated way. This will lead to palpitations that are uncomfortable.

Walking is a fantastic way to get the heart rate up without too much strain. Unless advised by your physician, engaging in walking for exercise is a wonderful way to raise your heart rate, get your blood flowing and regulate your heart rate.

Exercise will temporarily raise you heart rate, then it will gradually go down over the next several hours.

I love to go walking! Take me walking with you!

Moss, R (2007). The Mandala of Being: Discovering the Power of Awareness. Retrieved from Amazon.

Blood Pressure and the Autonomic Nervous System

Many factors can affect the blood pressure. High Blood pressure is an unfortunately common condition.

Many times, blood pressure is elevated only temporarily, but many times it is elevated chronically, leading to the disease Essential Hypertension.

Listen to the Podcast on Blood Pressure

The Autonomic Nervous System controls the blood pressure. The two major components of the Autonomic Nervous System are the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System.

Learn about the Autonomic Nervous System in this blog post.

The Sympathetic Nervous System operates during times of stress. The function of the Sympathetic Nervous System is to increase the heart rate, increase circulation to the extremities, and prepare the body to go into survival mode.

What’s raising your blood pressure?

Blood pressure management medical oversight, but it is possible to work with your mind and body to manage blood pressure.

Mindful Approach To Managing Blood Pressure

Ways to Manage Your Blood Pressure with Lifestyle
  • Diet:  My “quick and dirty” nutrition advise to reduce blood pressure.
  • Sleep: getting enough, improving the quality of sleep
  • Exercise:  How to keep it simple to get moving
  • Relationships: Really? yes, learn to observe how you show up in your relationships.

Putting It All Together

Blood pressure is a great way to understand traditional medicine and energy medicine together. The interplay of the mind and body controls the blood pressure and is not necessarily under the control of the conscious mind.

Exciting Content Coming up!

Sign up for more content! I’m working on some exciting projects on matters of the heart.

6 Ways to Activate the Parasympathetic System

The Autonomic Nervous System is made of the Sympathetic Nervous System and Parasympathetic Nervous System.

The Sympathetic System is necessary in times of exercise, or if fast physical action is needed (“Fight or Flight”).

Like all things in nature, we want to achieve balance. This blog post will discuss the benefits of activating the parasympathetic nervous system, why to do it and how to do it.

Working with the autonomic system is truly the playground of energy medicine. The Autonomic Nervous System is controlled by the vagus nerve and spinal cord. This system is very responsive to stress. During times of stress, either prolonged or brief, the Sympathetic Nervous system will govern bodily functions. The Sympathetic Nervous system will change the endocrine system to prepare for a threat. This means the hormone system will be producing more “stress hormones” (such adrenaline and cortisol) constantly.

How do you know when it’s time to activate the parasympathetic system?

  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Feeling ungrounded
  • Increasing pain levels
  • Digestive issues
  • Sexual dysfunction

Experiencing any of these signs or symptoms means that likely your sympathetic nervous system is running the show. It’s time to find balance.


1. Grounding Meditation While Standing

Standing with your feet firmly in place preferably barefoot for 1 to 3 minutes can help slow down your nervous system and let the parasympathetic system activate. In the book 21 Day Meditation Journey, we practice doing a few poses standing to activate Earth energy. Focusing your energy on your legs and feet can help to slow down racing thoughts. Do this simply by taking several deep breaths while standing and if your balance allows with your eyes closed.

Download the Free Ebook 9 Ways to Ground Your Energy

2. Hip Openers to Relax The Mind and Body

Yoga uses asanas (Yoga Poses) that focus on the hips to relieve stress.  The hip joints are weight bearing joints.  The hips, the hip girdle and lower back are also a place where many of us hold stress in our bodies.  This can be felt by tightness in the hips, trouble going from standing or sitting, or back pain.

Freeing up the hip joints through stretches will allow the mind and body to relax deeply.  These poses can be modified for comfort of course.  

Yoga Poses To Open the Hips

How to Modify These Poses

  • Sit on a blanket or block in Half-Lotus for comfort
  • Use Blocks or Blankets underneath the knees in Cobbler’s Pose
  • Sit on Blankets or Blocks in Yogi Squat
  • Dead Pigeon Pose on the Back is an alternative to Pigeon Pose

3. Deep Belly Breath

The Parasympathetic Nervous System can be activated with deep breaths into the belly. Breathing is controlled primarily by the Autonomic Nervous System. We can take conscious control of breath be taking deeper, slower breaths.

Taking deep Belly Breaths doesn’t require a formal meditation practice. You can do this even while reading this blog post.

Breath Into the Belly Now

  • Sit or stand straight, aligning
  • Loosen your clothing if needed
  • Inhale by initiating the breath by expanding the belly first, then the chest
  • Exhale first from the chest then the belly, squeeze the belly in.

4. Slow Down Your Breath

Breathing too rapidly is a a habit we all fall into easily. Hyperventilation, which is taking in too much oxygen, can occur if breathing is occurring only in the chest. During times of stress and anxiety, particularly if you’re sitting for prolonged periods, this can easily occur.

Breathing deeply and slowly allows the Parasympathetic system to engage. This can calm the mind and body.

Breath Counting Exercise

5. Express Your Feelings

The Autonomic Nervous System never lies. If you are hanging on to thoughts of pain, hurt, or resentment those emotions are being stored within your body. Finding a way to safely and effectively express your emotions will allow you to release stress and let your parasympathetic nervous system increase its activity. There’s no need to confront anyone or start a fight.

Using a journal, or a piece of paper you can safely discard, write down your feelings that are creating discomfort. Doing this will relief your body of the tension of unexpressed emotions.

Mindfulness Writing Exercise

6. Meditate to Quiet the Mind

Meditation is a powerful tool to calm the Sympathetic Nervous System (“Fight or Flight”) and engage the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Meditation can be a simple moment of mindfulness of 3 minutes, or a formal practice.

Start Your Meditation Journey Today-Meditation E Course

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What is the Autonomic Nervous System?

Understanding the autonomic system is a powerful healing tool. The autonomic nervous system controls every function in the body. In the most recent Art of Healing Podcast, we discuss what is blood pressure.

Many patients often wonder why they have high blood pressure. Many others also wonder why they have digestive issues when they feel nervous (such as nausea or diarrhea).

What is the autonomic nervous system?

Understanding the nervous system helps you understand your body.

Within all of us, there is a system the controls heart rate, respiration, digestion, waste elimination, and sexual function. This same system influences our moods, and can control how we feel moment to moment.

The Autonomic Nervous System deeply impacts our experience in reality. Understanding this system will give you the keys to healing your mind and body.


What is the Autonomic System?

The cognitive functions such as thinking, emotions and voluntary bodily actions are governed by the Central Nervous System. The Central Nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord send information to the body and receive information back through sensory neurons.

While we can control how fast we breath (such as slowing down the breath during meditation), it is difficult to consciously control the heart rate. It is nearly impossible to consciously change digestion, for instance, we can not control how fast peristalsis (contractions of the muscles of the intestines) occur.

The Autonomic Nervous System controls the bodily functions that are not under conscious control This sounds deceptively simple. Respiration, circulation, digestion, immunity and reproduction all most be coordinated in order for the body to function in a healthy way. This must be balanced against the bodies need to move in order to acquire energy, expend energy or escape a threat.


The Autonomic Nervous System is divided into two systems, the Parasympathetic Nervous System, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

In general, these systems oppose each other. One is always active, and only decreases it’s activity if the opposing system generates more signals.


“Each system is dominant under certain conditions. The sympathetic system predominates during emergency ‘fight-or-flight’ reactions and during exercise…the parasympathetic system predominates during quiet, resting conditions.”

— McCorry L.K., Physiology of the Autonomic Nervous System


Parasympathetic Nervous System

There are times in which the body needs to rest and recover, such as after meals, when it’s time to sleep, or simply relax.  There is no significant demand on the body to exert energy for survival. 

This mode of operation is when the parasympathetic system is dominant.  This system will influence the body to slow down the heart rate, increase digestive activity, and overall create a feeling of being relaxed.  This is the feeling we all have relaxing in our favorite chair reading a book for example.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System allows the mind and body to rest, digest and recover. When the body can slow down, the digestive system is able to absorb nutrients and eliminate waste effectively. The reproductive system can operate naturally, allowing for a natural libido that will ensure healthy sexual drive. The cardiovascular system, through the parasympathetic nervous system, will direct blood flow to the organ to ensure the normal bodily functions can perform at their best.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Function of the Parasympathetic Nervous System

  • Increases blood flow to digestive tract to encourage waste elimination
  • Encourages blood flow and nerve function ton augment sexual functioning
  • Increases blood flow to the digestive tract to improve motility of digestive system and nutrient absorption
  • Slows down the heart rate

Sympathetic Nervous System

Rest and recovery are necessary, but there are times in which we need to be active and kinetic.  We need to be alert, aware, and reflexes need to be at their peak.  When driving in heavy traffic, for example, the body needs to be able to react quickly to avoid a car accident.  Blood flow needs to be directed to the extremities to augment fast action if needed.  The heart should pick up speed in anticipation of a possible threat.  The pupils will dilate to improve vision.  This is when the sympathetic part of the sympathetic nervous system will dominate.  

The Sympathetic Nervous System controls blood flow, reflexes, and temperature of the limbs.  Reflexes are an important survival tool for the living body. 

The Sympathetic Nervous System operates mostly outside of the nervous system. This system is designed to run on speed and reflex. It is the Sympathetic Nervous System that governs reflexes. One example is if you reach for an object that’s too hot to touch, you will notice you withdraw your hand before you even register the pain of heat.

The Sympathetic Nervous system is activated in times of exercise but also in stress. The design of the sympathetic nervous system operates with speed, and does not require the input of the brain. This system is able to activate the adrenal glands in times of crisis. The “fight or flight” reaction is when some sort of stimuli that creates fear engages the Sympathetic Nervous system, which will cause the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. This powerful reaction can be life saving in times of trauma. It is a very necessary system for survival.

Function of the Sympathetic Nervous System

  • Decreased blood flow to the digestive tract
  • increased blood flow to the extremities
  • Increases heart rate and respiration
  • Turns sweat glands on
  • Dilates pupils to improve vision

What does the Autonomic System Control?

All of the organs of the body are controlled by the autonomic system.  The skeletal muscles and bones of the limbs are controlled by the sympathetic system.  Since the “Fight of Flight” of the body usually requires increased blood flow to the limbs, ths Sympathetic System exerts control in this area.

The organs of the chest and abdomen are controlled by both the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems.

We often don’t realize our body must be able to respond to external stimuli rapidly. If there’s a threat heading our way, our brain may take several minutes to process the threat. Fortunately, we have intelligent bodies that can take over the process of running, hiding, or fighting. For this reason, the sympathetic nervous system, which governs the body’s ability to respond to external threats rapidly, does not need to communicate much with the brain.

The parasympathetic nervous system governs the body’s ability to digest food, have sexual intercourse, and eliminate waste, as well as influences the cardiovascular system to slow down. From this description we can tell that the parasympathetic system is best to run the body system in times of rest, relaxation or recovery.

Why Understand the Autonomic Nervous System?

The Autonomic Nervous System influences all of the glands of the body. Control of hormonal production is heavily influenced by the Autonomic Nervous System.

I have the blessing of working with individuals with their bodies on a daily basis. Reflecting on this topic has reminded me of the true, miraculous nature of the human body.

The Chakra System, knowledge imparted from the ancient healing system of Ayurveda can be demystified by analysis of the Autonomic System.

It is for this reason I am embarking on my next project with my heart and soul. This project will journey even deeper into demystifying the mind-body connection by understanding the Heart Chakra.

Stay tuned for next week in this series in which we will discuss more in depth be sympathetic any parasympathetic nervous systems.

The next few months at Healing Arts will be full of exciting content.

Sign up for updates, and to catch the latest Art of Healing Podcast

References:

  1. McCorry L. K. (2007). Physiology of the autonomic nervous system. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 71(4), 78. https://doi.org/10.5688/aj710478