Stress and anxiety can cause many health problems, and high blood pressure is a side effect that shouldn’t be ignored.

Stress can cause many health issues and symptoms, including high blood pressure.

But the relationship between high blood pressure due to stress is more complicated than a + b = c. A complex set of factors can affect physiological responses, but understanding how stress and anxiety affect your blood pressure can improve your heart health.

Chronic stress releases hormones that make the heart pump harder and blood vessels narrow. In the short term, that response lets you run faster when chased by a neighborhood dog or quickly grab a child before they wander into oncoming traffic.

But if those hormones keep flowing in the long term, they can raise many heart-related red flags, including high blood pressure.

When a doctor measures your blood pressure, they’re measuring the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries.

A measure of your blood pressure includes two numbers:

  • systolic blood pressure (first number) — indicates how much force your blood is using to press against the arteries when your heart beats
  • diastolic blood pressure (second number) — indicates how much force your blood is using to press against the arteries in-between heartbeats

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), standard blood pressure is less than 120 systolic mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) and 80 mm Hg diastolic.

High blood pressure, aka hypertension, is when your readings consistently measure 130 to 140 mm Hg systolic or 80 to 90 mm Hg diastolic. There aren’t any signs or symptoms that you might have high blood pressure in most cases.

Frequent nosebleeds, headaches, fatigue, swelling, and brain fog might indicate rising blood pressure. But this condition is often called the “silent killer” because it primarily goes undetected unless your blood pressure is taken for another issue.

Stress and anxiety often go hand in hand, and both can contribute to your heart health.

When you’re stressed or anxious, your body releases hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine. These hormones trigger the body’s fight, flight, or freeze response — your body’s natural response to dangerous situations.

This rush of hormones can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as the body attempts to keep blood flowing to other parts of your body. A 2021 study by the American Heart Association (AHA) found a particularly strong connection between cortisol and dopamine levels and consequent increases in blood pressure.

Your thoughts and how you respond to situations can also heighten your body’s response and further increase your blood pressure, according to another 2021 study.

Many factors can contribute to high blood pressure, including:

  • genetics
  • environmental factors
  • age
  • race and ethnicity

Specific behavioral and lifestyle choices can also increase your chance of high blood pressure. These can include:

  • poor diet
  • lack of physical activity
  • excess body fat
  • alcohol and tobacco use

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to severe complications, such as heart attack or stroke. But there are ways you can manage your stress levels and blood pressure.

Consider trying the following simple steps:

  • Move your body. Regular exercise improves your cardiovascular health, including blood pressure, and lowers stress and anxiety. The AHA recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week to improve heart health.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. The AHA also recommends a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and lean animal and vegetable proteins. Try to minimize trans fats, processed red meats, red meats, refined carbohydrates, and sugary drinks.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Talk with a healthcare professional to determine a healthy weight for someone of your size, gender, and medical history. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can improve your blood pressure.
  • Watch your sodium intake. Consider low-sodium foods, and try to avoid adding extra salt. Again, focus on vegetables, fruits, and other healthy options.
  • Stop smoking. Nicotine can cause your blood vessels to narrow and increase your heart rate.
  • Cut back on alcohol and caffeine. Caffeine can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, while alcohol can increase blood pressure after a few hours.
  • Make time for self-care. Build some time into your day for self-care. Techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and journaling can help lower stress and anxiety.

High blood pressure can damage the heart and arteries and increase your chances of developing heart disease. While genetics and other factors can increase your chance of developing high blood pressure, so can stress and anxiety.

If you think you might have high blood pressure, consider talking with a healthcare professional about ways you can manage it. They can also give you tips on lowering your stress and anxiety levels.

If you want to know more information about high blood pressure and how you can manage it, you can check out these resources:

If you want to know more about lowering your stress and anxiety, check out these pages: