Can stress cause high blood pressure? All you need to know

Doctor checking blood pressure of a man

Stress and high blood pressure share a number of symptoms. Having high levels of one is not good if you want to avoid high levels of the other.

But can stress cause high blood pressure?

In this article, we will find out...

What is high blood pressure?

Your blood pressure is how hard your blood pushes against the walls of your arteries as it passes through them.

High blood pressure, sometimes called hypertension, can lead to serious health problems. These might include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Loss of vision

How does stress affect blood pressure?

Does stress increase blood pressure?

Yes. In the short term, stress can cause temporary spikes in your blood pressure.

This is because it is part of stress's proper function as the “fight or flight” response to boost your blood pressure. This means that that your blood will get to where it needs to go more quickly.

The stress response achieves this by releasing a bunch of hormones which narrow your blood vessels and increase your heart rate.

This is vital to give you the additional physical capacity and split-second increases in reaction time which might be necessary to overcome stressful situations.

But does stress cause high blood pressure on a long-term basis?

The jury still seems to be out on this one. Some people suspect that regular spikes in your blood pressure – such as those caused by episodic acute stress or chronic stress – might be as bad for putting increased pressure on your blood vessels as hypertension.

Technically, there is no link. But one thing is for sure:

Any doctor will advise you that undertaking activities which will relieve stress will be good for your overall health and will help to improve your blood pressure over time.

Does stress affect diastolic blood pressure?

Your blood pressure is usually expressed as two numbers:

  • 1. Your systolic blood pressure: is the first or top number. It is a measurement of the pressure created on the walls of your blood vessels by the beating of your heart.
  • 2. Your diastolic blood pressure: is the bottom or second number. It is a measurement of the force between the beats of your heart.

Healthy blood pressure will usually be lower than 120/80.

As stress can lead to spikes in your blood pressure, your diastolic blood pressure can be affected by it. However, even if it is not, high systolic blood pressure will still mean you have high blood pressure.

Stressed man

High blood pressure stress symptoms

A huge number of people have high blood pressure without knowing it. They will not experience any noticeable symptoms.

It usually takes something called a “hypertensive crisis” to be reached (that is a blood pressure of around 180/120) before symptoms start becoming truly noticeable.

Anyone experiencing a hypertensive crisis needs immediate medical attention.

Whether these are high blood pressure stress symptoms or they are a result of very high blood pressure caused by other factors, they will be displayed in the same sorts of ways:

  • Headaches
  • A feeling of nausea or vomiting
  • Double vision
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nosebleeds
  • Irregular heartbeats

Children in a hypertensive crisis may also experience Bell's Palsy, whereby they will lose control of the muscles in part of their face.

As stress can cause sudden short spikes in blood pressure, it is not good for individuals who already have hypertension to experience it.

This makes efforts to reduce stress levels doubly important...


Bad ways to deal with stress

There are good ways and bad ways of dealing with stress.

There might be no documented proof that stress can cause long-term hypertension. But there are definitely ways you can make the situation worse by choosing to deal with stress in an unhealthy way.

Many measures which people suffering from stress use as coping mechanisms are known to actually also raise the blood pressure:

1) Smoking

Smoking tobacco narrows your blood vessels. Plus, when you are smoking you are taking in less oxygen.

Combined, this is a sure-fire recipe for higher blood pressure:

The narrower the vessel, the higher the pressure of the blood running through it. Your heart also needs to beat faster to compensate for the reduced oxygen levels.

2) Drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol to excess will also raise your blood pressure to a large degree. Your chance of a stroke, heart failure and heart palpitations will consequently increase.

3) Snacking and junk food

Many people suffering from stress find their diet is affected. Either they find it difficult to build up any sort of appetite or they may be constantly snacking as a kind of coping strategy.

In both cases, there is an increased chance that a poor diet might result. High-salt diets will result in a risk of hypertension. Diets high in saturated fats and trans fats are also bad for you.

The healthier fats found in plants (you find these in olive oil, avocados, nuts and so on) are the ones you want to be aiming for.

4) A sedentary lifestyle

Stress can sometimes lead to procrastination and avoidance of decisions or responsibilities. It is also commonly a result of a packed schedule, where having enough time to properly exercise can be an early casualty.

A lack of exercise is another serious cause of hypertension.

Woman Meditating

Good ways of getting stress relief

There is no proven direct link between long-term high blood pressure and stress in the way which many people think of as stress-induced hypertension. However, stress and high blood pressure share many symptoms in common and having high levels of one can be exacerbated by high levels of the other.

This means that getting a little stress relief is a good idea for your general health. That includes your blood pressure...

There are a few different things you might like to try:

Meditation, yoga and tai chi are popular options for some very good reasons. For the latter two, the combination of gentle though usually thorough exercise paired with meditation makes for perfect stress relief.

If that does not sound like you, there are a wide range of stress relief products on the market. These range from devices designed to relax pressure points to calming phone apps.

At a minimum, exercising for half an hour at least three times per week is both good for your stress levels and can help to lower your blood pressure in the long run as part of positive lifestyle changes.

You might also try to do less.

Whatever method you choose, the most important thing to do is to start. Stress can cause high blood pressure no matter the situation which leads to it. Don't let yourself sit and suffer.

Henry Warren I am a professional writer and health & wellness enthusiast.