Stress is one of the most common causes of short bursts of high blood pressure. People with heart conditions are often told to be “as careful as possible” of rising levels of stress and anxiety. This is because the amount of pressure stress and anxiety place on the heart can be very dangerous. While high blood pressure bursts stemming from anxiety are not necessarily dangerous to those without a heart condition, they are still not ideal for long-term health.
Surprisingly, what many do not realize is that anxiety can cause low blood pressure too. In some cases, this drop in blood pressure that often comes with anxiety, can cause additional, uncomfortable symptoms. And if a person has suffered a panic attack in the past, low blood pressure can increase his or her risk for future panic attacks.
Responding to Low Blood Pressure
Everyone's blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day. At any moment, it may be lower or higher than recommended based on what a person has eaten, how much water they have ingested, whether they are sitting or standing, or even how they cross their legs.
That low or high blood pressure alone is usually not a concern unless a person has a heart problem, as the body is expected to go through these different fluctuations.
How Anxiety Causes Low Blood Pressure
Because high blood pressure is associated with stress, most people assume that low blood pressure must be a symptom of something else - something more dangerous. But low blood pressure is also a fairly common anxiety symptom, especially in those that suffer from panic and anxiety attacks. This is because, with those conditions (and to a lesser extent, other anxiety disorders), a person is much more likely to suffer from hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation and Low Blood Pressure
Hyperventilation occurs when a person’s breathing pattern changes in a way that reduces his or her CO2 levels. The most common reason this occurs is when the rate of increases (quickens), which often happens during periods of intense anxiety. It may also occur when people recognize their breathing rate increases, and try to slow the breathing through taking in deeper breaths. The body has a way of regulating the levels of oxygen and CO2 that is needed, so when a person attempts to control their breathing rate, it not uncommon to take in too much air.
Without enough carbon dioxide, the body has to work harder to function properly. Blood needs to move more quickly, and blood vessels dilate as a result. This dilation causes a drop in blood pressure (that is often temporary) but still may show up in a blood pressure reading.
Low Blood Pressure, Anxiety, and More Hyperventilation
There are two factors that tend to contribute to the extent to which this drop in blood pressure occurs.
- First, when a person hyperventilates, signals are sent to the body that it is not getting enough air, even though, in reality, it is getting too much. This tends to cause people to try to yawn or take deeper breaths, and unfortunately, this ends up making hyperventilation worse, and causing a further drop in blood pressure.
- Second, hyperventilation and low blood pressure cause several symptoms that can worsen anxiety, and thus, worsen hyperventilation. When a person has low blood pressure, the heart beats faster and harder to compensate. This may cause a person to experience chest pains, and contribute to feelings of lightheadedness and dizziness. People may feel as though they may faint, and in some cases, this could occur. All of these physical symptoms can increase anxiety, increase hyperventilation, and continue to sustain a lower blood pressure.
In nearly all of these cases, the change in blood pressure tends to be temporary. Once a person is able to regain control of his or her breathing, the blood pressure levels should go back to normal. Sometimes, regaining control of breathing can take longer than other times.
Are There Other Links Between Anxiety and Low Blood Pressure?
Generally, stress raises blood pressure, so many believe the main (or only) likely cause of low blood pressure is poor breathing. But there may be other causes. Often, after periods of intense anxiety, the body is left feeling very fatigued, and this can contribute to low blood pressure in people. Also, depression and low blood sugar may can cause lower blood pressure, both of which may be related to persistent anxiety. Dehydration and heat exhaustion can also lower blood pressure and cause anxiety, but the two are not necessarily related.
It is also important to remember anxiety can cause a person’s brain to have thoughts about situations in terms of the “worst case scenario”. These worst case scenario thoughts can make a person believe there is something wrong with his or her physical or mental health. In other words, a low blood pressure reading at a doctor's office may simply be coincidental, but to the anxious mind, it could mean something physically wrong.
It is important to remember blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day. Low blood pressure readings may have no correlation with a deeper health issue whatsoever.
Getting Your Blood Pressure Checked and Under Control
There is no harm in a person monitoring his or her blood pressure. Some people have naturally low blood pressure, and some, naturally high blood pressure. A doctor can provide a person more information regarding his or her blood pressure and what is considered “normal” based on health history, diet, age, etc.
If a person is informed his or her blood pressure is nothing to worry about, then it is likely anxiety related. Trying to learn healthy ways to breath can be hugely helpful in these cases. Focusing on taking slow breaths, and not trying to over-compensate for poor breathing are good places to start. Going for a walk can help as well because it can take one’s mind off of whatever difficult symptoms a person is experiencing, and get his or her blood flowing.