(I have written an update to this post. While most everything here still rings true and is important, there are just a few updates which can be found HERE.)
I belong to a couple of online support forums – one for anxiety and one for arrhythmias/heart issues. It is quite fascinating how the topics can often intermingle. Especially the anxiety and heart issues. If I had to guess, I would say that some form of anxiety/panic co-exists with a heart rhythm disorder probably 80% of the time – and that is a conservative estimate.
Some times the anxiety triggers the arrhythmia and very often the arrhythmia triggers the anxiety. It is a vicious, shitty cycle that spins with the velocity of a cyclone and it is very difficult to jump out. Let’s get off this stupid (not so) Merry Go Round, shall we?
When I do become involved in the discussions on these forums, I find I am most often giving support, advice or tips to those who may be newer to these experiences. Having dealt with this issues for several decades now, I have gained a lot of insight which I feel would have helped me earlier in my journey. So, why not utilize my crappy background to benefit others? There may as well be something good to come out of that suffering, eh?
There are several things that come up over and over again. So instead of constantly rewriting the same answers, I figured I would make a post with all of that information in one place. And this will be that place. Welcome, all. Have a seat. Relax. Have a listen and be well. This is for anyone who is dealing with anxiety or panic or an arrhythmia or all of the above. It could also be helpful to those who love someone dealing with one of these maladies.
I have lived with anxiety/panic for nearly 20 years to some degree. Maybe even longer. If you go to the My Crazy Brain category on this site, you will find a lot of posts on these topics.
I was diagnosed with SVT, PVCs and PACs about 10 years ago – but had it for many years prior. I was diagnosed with mild MVP a couple of years after that. All of these conditions cause symptoms that I can feel. Many people do not notice a thing and never even know they have it until it pops up on a monitor. But lucky me – I feel almost all of it. If you go to the My Crazy Heart category on this site, you will find quite a few posts about my heart issues.
One Bad Ass Mineral
One thing I tend to preach about – perhaps to an annoying level – is magnesium. And let me tell you, I have my reasons. Whether you have anxiety or heart rhythm issues – magnesium may just end up being your best friend. It also helps many other ailments and it is definitely worth looking into. I can say with all honesty and certainty that supplementing with magnesium has made a very big difference in my life.
A couple of years ago, I was having hundreds of ectopic beats (PVCs and PACs) per day. Sometimes they would come every other beat. I was absolutely going insane. And, of course, it drove my anxiety into high gear – which only made my heart nuttier.
I searched high and low for solutions. I tried it all, man. Aloe gel, apple cider vinegar, black strap molasses, meditation – if I read about it, I tried it (for the most part). I saw several doctors. One wanted to perform an ablation procedure on my heart and another said that was a ridiculous idea. Finally, I spoke to a pharmacist/nutritionist here in Racine at Nutritional Designs Pharmacy. She explained to me how magnesium works and that I may just be deficient in the mineral since American diets are so lacking many of the nutrients we desperately need.
I soon found myself in Barnes and Noble with a decaf coffee drink reading The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean. Suddenly, a light went on and I knew I had to try what could just be a last-ditch effort to slow those horrendous ectopic heartbeats.
From the National Institute of Health website:
Magnesium is of great importance in cardiac arrhythmias. It increases the ventricular threshold for fibrillation. Sinus node refractoriness and conduction in the AV node are both prolonged. Main indications for intravenous application of magnesium are Torsade de pointes tachycardias, digitalis toxicity induced tachyarrhythmias and multifocal atrial tachycardias. Additionally, patients with ventricular arrhythmias due to overdoses of neuroleptics or tricyclic antidepressants may profit from i.v. magnesium. Monomorphic ventricular tachycardias and ventricular arrhythmias refractory to class III antiarrhythmics have been shown to respond to i.v. magnesium. Recent publications have documented that perioperative use of magnesium can reduce the incidence of arrhythmic events on the atrial and ventricular level. Oral magnesium has been used for many years in patients with symptomatic extrasystoles. Studies show that the incidence of extrasystoles as well as patients’ symptoms are reduced during oral magnesium therapy.
With the recommendation of the above mentioned nutritionist, I began supplementing with Krebs Cycle Chelates (I take one in the morning and two at night), a magnesium/potassium supplement (one at night – never go above 90mg of potassium without a Dr’s suggestion) and with powdered magnesium citrate (which I add to my tea several nights per week). They can be purchased online (see links) or look for a local health/supplement shop in your area. In Racine, I highly recommend Nutritional Designs.
It is very important to find an absorbable form of magnesium. The magnesium oxide you typically find at Walgreens only provides 4% of absorbable magnesium. This means you are paying to basically have your crap loaded with magnesium – it simply goes right through you and does not enter into your cells where it is needed.
It should also be known that typical blood tests cannot detect an accurate level of cellular magnesium. It can only tell you what is floating through your veins. This does not help you. The best way to know is to go by how you FEEL.
I also take a warm bath with epsom salts and baking soda (about a cup each) almost every night. This not only helps my heart and anxiety but also menstrual cramps (when I had a uterus), muscle and joint aches (its been a godsend since surgery) and really helps with my sleep.
How much magnesium should you take? Well, it isn’t a difficult experiment – but perhaps one you’d be best doing on the weekend. If you want to know how much is too much – you ask your bowels. Hey, I am sure it won’t be the first time you’ve talked to an asshole! So, you need to purchase an absorbable form of magnesium (magnesium only, do not do this with a complex or combo supplement. With combos – take the recommended dose unless directed otherwise). Make sure you get a dose low enough to take multiple pills (or whatever form you take) per day. Take a small amount each day. And then a little more. And keep increasing until you have loose bowel movements (yes, the runs). And hey, if you have been constipated – this just may be a relief! Once you get runny stools, you back off to the previous dose and continue on that dose as long as your movements are back to normal. That is the magic test to find out how much magnesium your body is needing you to take.
**I highly HIGHLY suggest trying magnesium if you are struggling with an arrhythmia. But – as always – please check with your doctor first. I AM NOT A DOCTOR and this is not to replace professional medical advice!!!**
More Heart to Heart
Along with my beta blocker (Metoprolol 12.5 mg twice a day – which helps tremendously for tachycardia), magnesium has truly changed my life in regards to my heart arrhythmia. I went from having 100s of ectopic beats (what I sometimes refer to as “skipped beats” even though that isn’t exactly accurate) to maybe 4. Some days I get more and some I get none. Right now, I am in what I consider a “remission”. I get maybe a couple per day. Next month I could have a week where I get 20 a day. But that is not frequent. There are people who live with 10s of thousands per day. This isn’t a cure and isn’t an exact science. We simply look for things that help our lives become more manageable.
I am sure you already know, but just in case – you should really eliminate stimulants from your life if you are dealing with an arrhythmia or anxiety. This means caffeine, energy drinks, decongestants and even some times ginseng or similar herbs. Be careful of anything you take as far as herbal remedies or medications. I once tried melatonin and my heart went bonkers. Same thing happened with valerian root. Both of these are supposed to be calming. Even sedating. But for me – opposite. You just never know.
When having any kind of local anesthetic/novocaine, make sure you speak to the doctor or dentist about your heart. Many of these medications have epinephrine in them and, usually, you can request for that to be left out. Epinephrine will most certainly make your heart tachy.
When prescribed a new medication, I always ask the doctor AND the pharmacist if it will have any effects on heart rhythm. Always better to be safe rather than sorry.
Someone asked me yesterday how I have gotten to where I am now as far as my acceptance with these stupid heart flip flops. My answer isn’t an easy one. And it won’t be the same answer each day. But what I can say is that this is a process and likely a life long one. Some days I can deal with it calmly and rationally. And other days I am scared and angry and want to throw something against the wall.
Each arrhythmia is different and each person is different. I can only tell you what has helped ME. Walking and trying to stay as fit as I can helps me. I hate exercise, really, I do. But I make myself do it because I know my body needs it. For some people, this may not be the case. It is all individual and needs to be discussed with your doc. Alcohol also makes me feel worse so I usually avoid it. For others, it doesn’t bother them a bit.
While I do have my little tips and tricks when it comes to dealing with this crap – none of that really helped until I came to a realization. And that happened gradually as I became more and more sick and tired of wasting my life.
I watched my father die in front of me at the age of 46 years old. I was 23. I know all too well how short life is. Even if we live to 90 – it is still very short in the grand scheme of things. And it flies by in a flash. I could no longer allow myself to waste away in a puddle of my own tears and fears (not to be confused with the band, Tears for Fears, which is pretty fucking awesome).
Fact is, I am going to die. I don’t know if it will be due to my heart or an accident or a toilet seat falling from a jetliner in the sky. And I certainly do not know when I will cease to exist. So, while I am here – I am going to do the best I can to actually LIVE. Waiting to die isn’t a life. It definitely is no fun. And it usually doesn’t include cake. So fuck that. And I don’t mean I am out there hang gliding or mountain climbing. I am still pretty toned down. But I no longer set up camp in that pile of shit pebbled with fear. I do things I can savor, even when I have to force myself.
Am I always able to keep it all positive like that? Hell no. But the older I get, the more I refuse to wither away until I am actually dead. So, I can sit home feeling my pulse all day long just waiting for that final thud. Or I can deal with my PVCs and other crap while I am spending time with my family or going to a movie or eating a tasty meal. If the thud is coming – I may as well be trying to enjoy myself when it arrives.
After All, I AM the Neurotic Housewife
I was always an anxious child. And that anxiety manifested, eventually, into depression and later on into panic. The panic came after the arrhythmia. I was undiagnosed and untreated for over a decade and this created the whirlwind of panic disorder. At my worst times, I was having more than one panic attack a day. In the past 9 years, I have had maybe 5 full-blown attacks.
I still deal with GAD and health anxiety. Much of the time, these aren’t much of an issue. But other times – I can go off the rails. Before my recent hysterectomy, my anxiety went into overdrive. I was obsessive and SCARED TO DEATH. But I got through it with the help of medication, meditation, loved ones and some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) techniques.
I Said Yes to Drugs
For years, I was a medicinal guinea pig. SSRIs, SNRIs, Tricyclics, Benzos and other oddballs tossed in for good measure – I tried almost all of them. They either didn’t work or the side effects were worse than the original problem. I ended up hating meds and refused to try them again.
But after my daughter was born, I became a wreck. As a stay at home mom, I was with her all day. And I panicked constantly that I would drop dead and she would be left here alone until Charlie returned at night. It was awful and no way to live. I was absolutely miserable. So, I finally broke down and agreed to take a daily medication for the panic.
I started taking klonopin and I swear it saved my life. The panic subsided almost immediately. I noticed no ill effects and, in 9 years, I have not had to increase my dosage. I believe the beta blocker and magnesium also help in that arena as well – but the klonopin has truly changed my life. I will happily take it forever if need be.
Now, it doesn’t eliminate any depression nor does it get rid of my generalized anxiety. It simply stops the panic and the physical/physiological symptoms of the anxiety. The thought processes that create the GAD have to be dealt with on a cognitive level. And I do work on that constantly.
In the Midst of Panic
People often ask what helps during a panic attack or extremely anxious times. Through the years when I did have so many, I developed many coping skills. Here is a list of what got me through those moments and what may help you too:
- Distraction is key!! Count the pennies in your change jar, rearrange your living room, clean out your closet, alphabetize your CDs (do people still have CDs?), watch a funny television show, pull weeds, organize your bathroom drawer, make a grocery list – get your mind on something easy, simple, lighthearted and distracting.
- Buy and read the book – The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. This was my Bible for a long time. And I still pull it out during hard times. Do the exercises in the book!!! I cannot tell you how helpful this is.
- Relax. I know, I know – this is the worst thing to tell a person who is panicking. But do what you can to manifest some relaxation habits. Take a bath (again, epsom salt!!), guided imagery meditations – you can find millions on YouTube, stretches, painting or crafts….find things to relax not only your mind, but also your body.
- Move it move it move it. During a panic attack, your brain is releasing adrenaline and setting off your fight or flight instinct. The adrenaline and muscle contractions are what is causing those horrible physical symptoms of a racing heart, sweating, shakiness, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest tightness, muscle aches, etc. Exercise and moving your body will release that adrenaline more appropriately. Take a walk and notice the beauty around you. Try out a yoga video online. Jump rope. Swim. Move your body in a way that feels comfortable to you.
- WRITE!! Journaling helped me so much. I would use the same notebook each time. I would just keep writing until I started to feel better. I wrote whatever I was feeling, I wrote gratitude lists, I wrote about my day – anything. And not only is this releasing your feelings – it also provides proof for you the next time that you have been through this before and you SURVIVED!! You can clearly see that (for example) last Tuesday you were also certain you were about to die and had chest pain and had tingling in your legs…and that you lived through it.
- Call a trusted friend. Now, while this may be extremely helpful, it can be tricky. You do not want to become a constant burden to the same friend every day. It cannot always be about YOU and how YOU feel. You will drain the friendship – even the great ones. You must make an effort to gear the conversation toward THEM. Ask them about their day and their families. Show them you care and appreciate their time. It not only will strengthen the friendship, but it will also help you escape your own shit for a while. Try not to be an energy vampire.
- Help someone. Anxious/depressed people can become pretty self involved at times. Some more than others. It is important to get out of your own mind and a great way to do that is to help others. Volunteer. Visit a nursing home. Make cookies for a sick friend. Write cards of thanks and mail them. Walk a neighbor’s dog or mow their lawn. Help out at your local food bank. The options are endless. You will feel better and you will help someone else feel better. Win win, man. Also, you may just get a new perspective that helps you see how good you have it. As sucky as anxiety disorders can be – there are problems that can be much more devastating.
Some People Just Don’t Understand
And they never will. If they have not felt this themselves – they just can’t truly get it. There are some great people who really try to understand and are compassionate enough to be there for you even if they don’t know what it is like. These are the people you really need to appreciate, pick flowers for and smother with kisses. These people are rare and precious and deserve praise.
It is not easy to be the loved one of someone experiencing this mental bullshit. It sucks for them too – please remember that.
There will be people in your life who treat you like a disease. They will talk to you like a child and roll their eyes when they think you aren’t looking. They will never attempt to muster up an ounce of compassion and they have no tolerance for your emotions. They will think you are too sensitive and need to get over it. They may be close friends, relatives, clergy, teachers and people you’d expect to care. But they don’t. And there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do about it.
You can let it get to you. You can over explain or try to change for them. You can hide your real self. You can allow yourself to be constantly disappointed and heartbroken. Or you can simply say goodbye. I will let you guess which option is healthier.
While I could go on and on all day about these topics, I must end it at some point. And like I said, I have written extensively about all of this in the past. Feel free to search this site (almost a decade of blog posts here). And if you would like to discuss this or anything else about these subjects – please feel free to comment!! Start a discussion.
So, as a re-cap:
Magnesium is wonderful. Klonopin saved me. Beta blockers help the heart and adrenaline surges. Different meds work differently for each person. Speak with your doctor, be patient and give the med a chance. But be aware and listen to your body. If something is making you feel horrible, say something and make them listen!!!
Distraction is key during panic. Helping others is one of the best ways to overcome your own anxiety. Exercise is necessary. Stay away from stimulants. Read The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. And remove toxic people from your life.
Most importantly – live. This is your one chance and it is passing you by RIGHT NOW. Live the life you are so afraid to lose. Shit, you may as well make the fear worth it, right?
Again, please see my update to this blog post HERE