Stress and high blood pressure: What's the connection?

Stress and long-term high blood pressure may not be linked, but taking steps to reduce your stress can improve your general health, including your blood pressure. Discover how.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Stressful situations can cause your blood pressure to spike temporarily, but can stress also cause long-term high blood pressure? Could all those short-term stress-related blood pressure spikes add up and cause high blood pressure in the long term? Researchers aren't sure.

However, exercising three to five times a week for 30 minutes can reduce your stress level. And if you have high blood pressure, doing activities that can help manage your stress and improve your health can make a long-term difference in lowering your blood pressure.

Your reaction to stress may affect your blood pressure

Your body produces a surge of hormones when you're in a stressful situation. These hormones temporarily increase your blood pressure by causing your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow.

There's no proof that stress by itself causes long-term high blood pressure. But reacting to stress in unhealthy ways can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Certain behaviors are linked to higher blood pressure, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating unhealthy foods

Also, heart disease may be linked to certain health conditions related to stress, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Isolation from friends and family

But there's no evidence these conditions are directly linked to high blood pressure. Instead, the hormones your body makes when you're emotionally stressed may damage your arteries, leading to heart disease. Also, some symptoms, like those caused by depression, may cause you to forget to take medications to control high blood pressure or other heart conditions.

Increases in blood pressure related to stress can be dramatic. But when your stress goes away, your blood pressure returns to normal. However, even frequent, temporary spikes in blood pressure can damage your blood vessels, heart and kidneys in a way similar to long-term high blood pressure.

Stress-reducing activities can lower your blood pressure

Reducing your stress level might not directly lower your blood pressure over the long term. But using strategies to manage your stress can help improve your health in other ways. Mastering stress management techniques can lead to healthy behavior changes — including those that reduce your blood pressure.

There are many options for managing stress. For example:

  • Simplify your schedule. If you always feel rushed, take a few minutes to review your calendar and to-do lists. Look for activities that take up your time but aren't very important to you. Schedule less time for these activities or eliminate them completely.
  • Breathe to relax. Taking deep and slow breaths can help you relax.
  • Exercise. Physical activity is a natural stressbuster. Just be sure to get your doctor's OK before starting a new exercise program, especially if you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
  • Try yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation strengthen your body and help you relax. These techniques also may lower your systolic blood pressure by 5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or more.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Too little sleep can make your problems seem worse than they really are.
  • Shift your perspective. When dealing with problems, resist the tendency to complain. Acknowledge your feelings about the situation, and then focus on finding solutions.

The goal is to discover what works for you. Be open-minded and willing to experiment. Choose your strategies, take action and start enjoying the benefits.

Dec. 07, 2018 See more In-depth