15 February 2016

Keep calm

The recent onset of heart palpitations has reminded me never to take any aspect of my physical health for granted.

These palpitations first manifested as 'ectopic beats' - premature or extra beats that thudded in my chest at least two to three times a minute. These stopped after a couple of weeks, only to be replaced by the intermittent sensation of being able to feel my heart beating: apparently also categorised as 'palpitations'.

This sensation is more noticeable if anything presses against my chest, for example, if I'm lying on my left side or if I have my arms crossed. It feels as though a small animal is head-butting my ribcage. Although this is a less disconcerting experience than the ectopics, it reminds me too much of the 'chestbuster' scene in Alien to be entirely comfortable.

Oh, how I long for the undetectable, rhythmic heartbeat that I'd never appreciated for one second before.

This problem has also made me aware that I'm often a lot more stressed than I realise.

Image courtesy of cooldesign/
When the ectopics began, I tried to pinpoint exactly when they were happening; I didn't notice them when walking quickly and they eased if I sat still, but only vanished if I lay down and didn't move a muscle. The second I so much as turned over, thud-thud-thud, off they went again.

Then I noticed that the beating seemed more erratic when I was standing still. While running errands, I found myself having to wait in both the post office and at the supermarket checkout. My heart felt completely out of control - it was like having a family of mice running about inside me. Pitter patter, pitter patter.

It was only later that I realised the problem wasn't the standing, but the queuing.

I'd gone to the post office when I'd expected it to be quiet, only to see from my 'Counter Service' ticket that there were about 20 people ahead of me. And in the supermarket, the woman in front took ages to pay, with a fistful of vouchers and what appeared to be the contents of her loose change jar.

Although I was conscious of becoming irritated in both places, I didn't realise I was actually stressed. My wonky heart was the giveaway: stress may, or may not, have triggered the original palpitations, but it was certainly making them worse - and still does, in their most recent manifestation.

So what has it been doing to my body - unnoticed - up until now, when I didn't have this heightened physical awareness? We all know that stress is bad for us, but mostly disregard the warnings for lack of any real evidence...until it's too late and we develop high blood pressure, heart disease or any one of a number of other serious conditions. 

At least now I can tell immediately when I'm becoming uptight and can take steps to calm down, by deep breathing, or reminding myself that whatever's bothering me isn't that important. 

I'm trying to view this early warning system as the silver lining to this particular health issue, but I can't say I'll be sorry to see the back of those hyperactive mice!

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