November 26, 2023

Unraveling the Differences Between Anxiety and Heart Disease

Panic Attack or Heart Disease? Anxiety symptoms that do and don’t indicate heart disease

It’s a common misnomer to think that people with the energy and time to dance around a gym, must have it easier than most. If I’ve learned anything through this biz, that is certainly not the case. Many times (if not most) they are friends who are struggling to clear their heads and fight stress, depression, and disease, BUT they are patient and playful enough to allow themselves a little mojo in their lives.

Case in point: Dolores Howry

A systems engineer by day, and Mojo maven at night, most of us know Dolores as the infinitely positive and perky blonde with a Hollywood smile. You would never know that Dolores struggles with anxiety…

“I have had anxiety for a long time, but hormonal changes have increased its intensity. Imagine 10 browser tabs open in your brain all demanding your undivided attention and excellence. For me anxiety manifests as heart palpitations, and a few years ago landed me in the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack.  

Anxiety affects us mentally and physically. I rely on my faith in God to quiet my thoughts, as well as keeping physically active, eating healthy, getting rest and being part of an encouraging community.  

Mojo provides me with the physical challenge within a supportive community. The combination of Cindy’s choreography and collective energy from the amazing ladies in class provides the endorphins I need to reset my brain well beyond the hour of class.”

Thank you for sharing, Dolores. So many of us need to hear this! 

Many of us think of anxiety and stress as somewhat interchangeable conditions. I used to be one of them until last year when a scary medical incident rocked my world and left me with anxiety (a story I will share in a future newsletter). As someone who prides herself on being informed and healthy, I learned the hard way how stress and anxiety are two very different conditions. 

In honor of Heart Health Month and the craziness of the holidays, I thought it would be helpful to share the difference between stress and anxiety. Which symptoms may be related to heart disease and which symptoms DO NOT indicate heart disease. This information may save your life – and soothe your nerves this holiday season. You’re welcome!

  • Stress is a normal, sometimes welcome, physiological response to a perceived threat or demand. It is our body’s way of preparing to fight or flight. When we are stressed, our bodies release hormones that increase our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Stress is typically short-lived and goes away once the threat or demand is removed.
  • Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. Everyone experiences it  from time to time. However, if anxiety is excessive or persistent, it can interfere with our daily lives. Anxiety can cause a number of physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, and shortness of breath…which can exacerbate our anxiety and lead to panic attacks (Been there!).
Anxiety symptoms that can mimic heart disease:
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing heart or palpitations
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
Signs that you should see a doctor about your anxiety and heart health:

Your symptoms are severe or persistent. If your anxiety is causing you significant distress or interfering with your daily life, it’s important to see a doctor.
You have new, worsening symptoms. If you develop new symptoms, such as chest pain that radiates down your arm or into your jaw.

You have risk factors for heart disease. If you have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your anxiety. They can help develop a plan to reduce your overall risk of heart disease.
if you ever find yourself having a panic or anxiety attack, the below chart offers a wonderful distinction between the two: 
Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Here are some things to help yourself feel better:
Focus on your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm. This will help to slow your heart rate and calm your nervous system.
Repeat calming mantras or affirmations. This could be something as simple as “This is just a temporary feeling.”
Practice relaxation techniques. This could include yoga, meditation…or Mojo!
Distract yourself. Watch a funny video, listen to music, or read a book.

Seek professional help if you need it. A therapist can teach you coping mechanisms and help you develop a treatment plan.

This statement by Madisyn Taylor, a meditation specialist, explains the art of meditation – via Mojo – far better than I could…
“The longer we are able to hold a positive thought, the stronger that energy around us becomes.
If we make no effort at all, our thoughts usually scatter in a vast array of directions.
They start and stop and move in surprising ways from one second to the next.
If we apply our minds to a specific task, especially one that interests us, they gather together and allow us to focus our attention, creating great power and energy.”
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