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How Anxiety Affects Blood Pressure

Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
How Anxiety Affects Blood Pressure

Blood pressure naturally fluctuates throughout the day. No matter how healthy you are, you're going to have higher blood pressure and lower blood pressure at different times during the day depending on what you eat, how much sleep you got, how much you're moving, and even how stressed you feel.

In some cases anxiety can have an effect on your blood pressure. But what's interesting is that anxiety doesn't just make your blood pressure higher – it can make your blood pressure lower as well.

Blood Pressure Changes and Anxiety

Anxiety is the activation of your fight or flight system – a system designed to keep you safe from harm – when no danger is present. The fight or flight system causes a number of physical changes that would help you respond to a predator or threat if one was present, but can be distressing when they occur without that danger.

Different types of anxiety can affect your blood pressure in different ways. To understand how anxiety can impact blood pressure, first you must gain a basic understanding of blood pressure and how it fluctuates. 

Finally, it is always important to remember that blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day due to exertion, diet, hydration, and more. Blood pressure is not constant even if you do not have any anxiety. So "high blood pressure" may not be high blood pressure at all, and may instead be a reading during one of these fluctuations.

Blood Pressure Changes Can Cause Anxiety

It's also possible for blood pressure to cause anxiety. Both low blood pressure and high blood pressure can cause changes in your heartbeat, dizziness and lightheadedness, and more. These symptoms can themselves create anxiety or trigger panic attacks, and that in turn may increase your anxiety. However, not everyone who suffers from high blood pressure experiences anxiety. 

Is it Dangerous When Anxiety Affects Blood Pressure?

The greatest concern is whether or not your blood pressure changes are dangerous. The answer is a bit complicated. On the most basic level, affected blood pressure is not dangerous. Remember, random fluctuations happen all the time with no ill effects. Blood pressure is a symptom of an issue – whether it's anxiety or heart disease – and not a cause of heart problems.

Your heart rate and your blood pressure also may get a break with anxiety. The body is remarkable and adjusts to chronic conditions. Some people that experience anxiety for hours on end actually find that their blood pressure adjusts to that anxiety, which ultimately means that it goes back to a base level. High blood pressure changes tend to be fairly short term, and are most common in the early stages of anxiety or during panic attacks.

However, it would be wrong to say that this rise in blood pressure cannot be dangerous. For those with heart disease, these symptoms should not be taken lightly. Anxiety can cause a rapid heartbeat, which leads to higher blood pressure and could in theory exacerbate a heart condition. That's why it's always important to talk to a doctor and get checked out regardless of your anxiety.

How to Overcome Affected Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure is specifically monitored by your brain to ensure that your body is operating at an ideal level. Temporary spikes in blood pressure can cause concerns, but your body creates them for a reason.

It is important to make sure you learn to manage your anxiety to help ensure healthy blood pressure. Whether you have panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc., you still need to make sure that you're treating your anxiety in order to also treat your anxiety-related high blood pressure.

Article Resources
  1. Raglin, John S., and William P. Morgan. Influence of exercise and quiet rest on state anxiety and blood pressure. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (1987).
  2. James, Gary D., et al. The influence of happiness, anger, and anxiety on the blood pressure of borderline hypertensives. Psychosomatic Medicine 48.7 (1986): 502-508.
  3. Devereux, Richard B., et al. Left ventricular hypertrophy in patients with hypertension: importance of blood pressure response to regularly recurring stress. Circulation 68.3 (1983): 470-476.
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