Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia, when the heart does not beat regularly. Anxiety may play a role in the development of heart conditions, including atrial fibrillation.

is an irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart. The two upper chambers, which doctors call the right and left atria, supply blood flow to the lower chambers of the heart, the right and left ventricles.

With AF, the upper and lower chambers do not beat at the same time, resulting in an irregular heartbeat and a change in blood flow from the upper chambers to the lower chambers.

AF can cause symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness. AF can happen in short episodes, which may reoccur, or people may have AF permanently.

Anxiety can cause physical changes in the body, which may affect heart health. Some research suggests a possible link between anxiety and increased risk of AF.

In this article, we look at the link between anxiety and AF, whether mental health conditions can worsen symptoms of AF, and tips for managing anxiety and stress.

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A 2019 research review looked at the effects of anxiety in causing AF. Anxiety is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but this review looked at whether there was a link between anxiety and AF.

Inflammation and oxidative stress play a key part in the development of AF. Research shows that anxiety links to systemic inflammation and atypical blood clotting, which may increase the risk of cardiovascular issues.

Anxiety can cause an overactive sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response that allows the body to respond to perceived threats.

An overactive sympathetic nervous system can cause an increase in catecholamine, a chemical that works as a hormone and neurotransmitter in the body.

High levels of catecholamine can trigger stress cardiomyopathy, a sudden weakening of the heart muscle due to intense emotional or physical stress.

Researchers suggest that these changes that occur in the body as a result of anxiety may all be factors in the development of AF.

A 2018 study noted that anxiety and depression can create an environment that may promote the development of AF.

A 2019 study involving 37,402 adults examined the potential link between anxiety and depression with AF.

Researchers found no increased risk of AF with symptoms of anxiety or severe depression, but they did find an increased risk of AF with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.

One possible reason for the differences in depression symptom severity and AF risk is that people with more severe depression may get treatment with antidepressants.

Certain antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, may have protective effects on the cardiovascular system and reduce inflammation.

According to a 2022 study, psychological stress and negative emotions may increase episodes of AF and worsen symptoms.

A 2018 study showed that AF can negatively affect quality of life, and frequent episodes of AF can lead to anxiety and depression.

In turn, anxiety and depression link to an increase in symptom severity, higher deaths, and an increase in the need for healthcare.

There are many steps people can take to help them manage stress and anxiety. People may want to try different techniques to find which works best for them.

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America suggests the following strategies to cope with stress and anxiety:

  • Take time out to relax and step away from a stressful situation or problem.
  • Find an activity that feels relaxing, such as listening to music, yoga, meditation, taking a walk, or getting a massage.
  • Eat a balanced diet and try not to skip meals.
  • Limit substances that can worsen anxiety, such as alcohol and caffeine.
  • Exercise every day to help promote mental well-being.
  • Get enough quality sleep each night, as stress and chronic health conditions can mean the body requires more rest.
  • Practice deep breathing by inhaling and exhaling slowly to calm the body.
  • Count to 10 or 20 slowly.
  • Practice letting go of trying to control everything or trying to reach perfection, which is unattainable.
  • Find something humorous or look for the funny side in situations.
  • Practice replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones.
  • Volunteer or find an activity to join in the local community, which may provide a support network, a different perspective, and a change from everyday stressors.
  • Make a note of any person or situation that triggers stress or anxiety, and if possible, make changes in these areas or avoid the trigger.
  • Use a journal to write down any concerns or difficult emotions and notice any patterns in feelings.
  • Talk with supportive friends, family, or a healthcare professional.

If people have difficulty finding relief through healthy coping strategies or if anxiety or stress affects their everyday life, people may want to talk with a healthcare professional. People can speak with a doctor or search online to find therapy.

The 2022 study suggested that taking steps to manage and reduce stress may help reduce symptoms of AF and lower any distress people may feel with the condition. It may help increase resilience and improve AF outcomes.

AF is an irregular heartbeat. Anxiety can increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, and some research suggests anxiety may increase the risk of developing AF.

Further research is necessary to determine the links between anxiety and AF and other mental health conditions, such as depression, and AF.

In people with AF, mental health conditions, such as anxiety, stress, and depression, may worsen symptoms.

Taking steps to reduce anxiety and stress may help lower the risk of AF or reduce AF symptoms and improve outcomes.