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

Stress can cause short-term spikes in blood pressure. Taking steps to reduce stress can improve your heart health.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Being under stress can cause your blood pressure to spike briefly. But researchers aren't sure whether stress can cause blood pressure to rise long-term.

Experts do know that exercising 3 to 5 times a week for 30 minutes can lower stress. For people with high blood pressure, doing activities that help manage stress and improve health can help lower blood pressure.

Reactions to stress can affect blood pressure

The body releases a surge of hormones when under stress. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to narrow. These actions increase blood pressure for a time.

There's no proof that stress by itself causes long-term high blood pressure. But reacting to stress in unhealthy ways can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Behaviors linked to higher blood pressure include:

  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine.
  • Eating unhealthy foods.
  • Eating too much.
  • Not moving enough.

Heart disease also might be linked to certain health conditions related to stress, such as:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Being cut off from friends and family.

There's no proof that these conditions are directly linked to high blood pressure. But the hormones the body makes when under emotional stress might damage arteries. The artery damage might lead to heart disease. And symptoms of depression and anxiety might cause some people to forget to take medicines to control high blood pressure or other heart conditions.

Stress can cause a steep rise in blood pressure. But when stress goes away, blood pressure returns to what it was before the stress. However, short spikes in blood pressure can cause heart attacks or strokes and may also damage blood vessels, the heart and the kidneys over time. The damage is like the damage from long-term high blood pressure.

Stress-reducing activities can help lower blood pressure

Although people with high stress and high blood pressure would generally see blood pressure go down after controlling stress, reducing stress might not lower blood pressure in everyone. But managing stress can help improve health in other ways. Learning how to manage stress can lead to healthy behavior changes — including those that lower blood pressure.

Here are some ways to manage stress:

  • Adjust your schedule. If you have too much to do, look at your calendar and to-do lists. Ask others to do some things. Schedule less time for activities that aren't important to you. Say no to things you don't want to do.
  • Breathe to relax. Taking deep, slow breaths can help you relax.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity eases stress. Before starting an exercise program, get your health care provider's OK. This is even more important for those with high blood pressure.
  • Try yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation help you relax.
  • Get enough sleep. Too little sleep can make problems seem worse than they are.
  • Change how you see challenges. When dealing with problems, accept your feelings about a situation. Then find ways to solve it.

Learn what works for you. Be willing to try new things. Get the health benefits, which might include lowering blood pressure.

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Dec. 10, 2022 See more In-depth

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