Unmanaged anxiety can put your body in a constant state of stress, and high blood pressure, or hypertension, can be one result.
If you live with an anxiety disorder, you might experience stress differently from someone who doesn’t have one.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), almost 1 in 5 U.S. adults (18%) are impacted by an anxiety disorder every year.
Not all anxiety is harmful. Why? Anxiety is the body’s natural response to changes in our equilibrium, or balance. It’s a natural response to stress.
In addition, anxiety usually comes from a situational or other specific cause. It can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). High blood pressure, or hypertension, can also be short-term or persistent.
What if you’re always anxious or have chronic anxiety? Does this mean you’ll also have chronic high blood pressure?
Not necessarily. Anxiety has only been linked to a temporary spike in blood pressure.
Your body’s natural, helpful anxiety response is different from anxiety that impacts your physical and emotional health in the long term. When anxiety causes high blood pressure, for example, it’s a good idea to take steps to address it.
In addition to impacting you emotionally, anxiety will likely affect you physically. It can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase in response to a stressor.
When you experience a stressor — for example, someone cutting you off in traffic — cortisol, the stress hormone, gets released into your bloodstream. Stress can also cause your heart rate to increase, leading to a higher volume of blood circulating in your arteries. Both of these factors can result in heightened blood pressure.
If you experience many of the following symptoms and signs, it could mean you’re experiencing anxiety, which may result in heightened blood pressure:
- excessive sweating
- nausea or stomach pain
- dizziness, shortness of breath, or shallow breathing
- chest pain
- shaking or trembling
- feeling out of control or disconnected from your own body
According to the American Heart Association, blood pressure is considered to be elevated if it’s above 120 mm Hg systolic and below 80 mm Hg diastolic.
Systolic blood pressure measures the force of blood against your artery walls when your heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure is the measure of that force in between heartbeats.
If you’re experiencing heightened blood pressure due to anxiety, it can feel like:
- difficulty catching your breath
- nausea or vomiting
- lightheadedness and dizziness
- increased sweating
- vision changes
- brain fog or confusion
It’s usually not too difficult to perceive anxiety’s impact on you physically. You’ll likely be able to feel your heart rate increase. But when it comes to hypertension, it can be trickier to tell whether you’re experiencing anxiety, blood pressure changes, or both.
What’s clearer is that it’s not uncommon for conditions linked to hypertension — like heart problems and stroke — to cause anxiety. In fact, about 1 in 4 people experience anxiety after a stroke. Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 people who experienced cardiac arrest had feelings of worry that kept coming back after the fact.
You might worry about:
- painful symptoms coming back
- having to go back to the hospital
- missing work or important events due to your health
- experiencing the financial impacts of having a health condition
It’s possible to manage anxiety about hypertension alongside hypertension itself.
It’s possible to manage hypertension related to anxiety with intentional self-care. These stress management techniques can also help reduce anxiety symptoms.
Exercise increases oxygen flow to your cells and can improve overall functioning, too.
It also releases serotonin, which can help lower and regulate symptoms of anxiety and hypertension. For example, taking a walk or going for a jog can help regulate blood flow, keeping your blood pressure regular.
Centering yourself throughout the day can produce a calming effect that improves your overall mental and emotional state. Even taking 5 to 10 minutes to meditate could help regulate symptoms.
Have you ever had a great night’s sleep and felt calm, relaxed, and focused? Now think about those nights you didn’t sleep well. You might have started the day feeling irritable or more prone to worry.
Living with anxiety can make it more difficult to get high quality sleep, but it can also be an important part of managing both anxiety and blood pressure. Rest doesn’t just encompass sleep, although lack of sleep can cause increased anxiety and heart rate.
Breathing can help center us and provides oxygen to our brain cells. The more oxygen our brain and other organs get, the better we can respond to stress.
Here’s a quick exercise you can try:
- Lie on the ground or sit in a quiet place.
- Breathe in with your abdomen rather than your chest, until your lungs are full.
- Count to 3, then slowly exhale.
- Repeat as many times as you’d like.
If you’re looking for a deeper dive on deep breathing and how to do it, you can check out this article.
If you’re feeling your anxiety or blood pressure spike, a grounding exercise could also help. It could also help if you’re experiencing a panic attack.
Here’s one way to ground yourself. Focus on:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can smell
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can touch
- 1 thing you can taste (having a piece of gum or candy on hand can help with this)
Here are some one minute mindfulness exercises if you’re looking for more ways to ground yourself.
While anxiety can cause temporary hypertension, it isn’t necessarily going to cause long-term hypertension. But if you have any concerns about how anxiety could be impacting your health, talking with a doctor is a good first step.
In the meantime, taking small steps to manage your anxiety could help you manage its physical effects. If you start to feel your heart beating faster and anxiety is the cause, it can help to:
- identify your stressors
- take a short walk
- listen to music
- call or text a friend
If you want to talk with a mental health professional about anxiety, you can also ask your doctor for a mental health referral. Together with your health care professional, it’s possible to find the best care plan for you.
DRK Beauty is a mental health and wellness platform that’s a home for Women of Color to discover, experience, and build their unique well-being journey. Their community can access a broad range of affordable resources (live group sessions, curated content, paid-for courses, etc.) from culturally responsive therapists, faith-based teachers, and practitioners of various spiritual, healing, and occupational modalities. They also offer free therapy to Women of Color through their nonprofit initiative DRK Beauty Healing. They believe their holistic approach to healing will ultimately empower the global to forge a unique path to wellness.