Anxiety and Blood Pressure: What Is the Link?

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD
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When a person experiences anxiety, they may feel emotions such as fear, worry, unease, and dread. Their body may also experience a range of physical signs, including an increase in blood pressure levels. There are different types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. Sometimes, anxiety is the body’s default reaction to stress.

Other physical signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

This article explains whether or not anxiety can cause high blood pressure and what factors may contribute to this, including anxiety medications. It also offers tips on how to lower blood pressure and decrease stress.

Can anxiety cause high blood pressure?

a woman is sat on a sofa measuring her blood pressure
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Anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure. This is because the body experiences anxiety due to stress, which raises your heart rate and makes your blood vessels narrower, contributing to blood pressure spikes.

When stress levels decrease, your blood pressure should return to its usual range.

However, in a 2015 systematic review, researchers found that people who experienced more severe anxiety had a higher chance of developing high blood pressure, or hypertension.

The researchers mentioned the short-term spikes in blood pressure that anxiety can cause, including white-coat syndrome. This occurs when people become more stressed while having their blood pressure taken at a doctor’s office, thereby leading to higher readings.

They added that people with anxiety were also more likely to experience high blood pressure at night and early in the morning.

Long-term blood pressure increases

The same systematic review found evidence to suggest that the temporary effects of anxiety on high blood pressure, including its effects on blood vessels, could lead to a weakening of blood vessels and increase the risk of longer-term high blood pressure.

Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that long-term anxiety can mean that the sympathetic nervous will activate more easily. This can also raise blood pressure, and it can increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis and high cholesterol.

The researchers also noted that people with anxiety might be more likely to undertake certain activities that can raise their blood pressure, including:

  • overeating
  • smoking
  • consuming alcohol
  • not getting enough exercise

People who experience stress may be more likely to develop fat deposits around the abdomen, which also has links to high blood pressure.

Anxiety medications that can increase blood pressure

Some medications that can treat anxiety may raise blood pressure. These medications include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Serotonin is a hormone that can stabilize your mood. Norepinephrine can make you feel more alert and energetic.

Some examples of SNRIs with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval include:

  • desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla)
  • levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
  • duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • venlafaxine (Effexor, Effexor XR)

Managing anxiety and avoiding blood pressure spikes

Identifying that you have anxiety early and seeking treatment with the aid of a healthcare professional can help manage anxiety and high blood pressure in people with both conditions.

Management of anxiety could include the following.

Medication

A doctor can help you find the right medication for your case.

Some suitable options for people with anxiety and high blood pressure include:

  • beta-blockers
  • buspirone
  • certain antidepressants
  • antihistamines, such as hydroxyzine

Lifestyle changes

Making some lifestyle changes could help you manage stress and high blood pressure. These include:

  • Relaxing: Try taking 15–20 minutes to sit and still the mind while imagining a peaceful scene. Set aside time each day to regularly detach from work and relax the mind.
  • Getting plenty of physical activity: Where possible, find forms of exercises you enjoy and carry them out regularly. This may involve team sports, walking, or cycling.
  • Avoiding alcohol and smoking: Limiting your intake of alcohol and tobacco can help you manage anxiety.
  • Finding a support system: Foster relationships with people around you who make you happy.
  • Understanding your triggers: Identify what regularly makes you stressed. Work to eliminate the source, if possible, or find healthy ways of dealing with the stress, such as breathing exercises.

Therapy

Going to regular therapy sessions can help ease the symptoms of anxiety. There are many different types of therapy available, and a healthcare professional can help determine which type is right for you.

Types of therapy for anxiety include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy focuses on recognizing and changing thinking patterns that drive behavior.
  • Exposure therapy: Therapists will slowly expose you to the source of your anxiety.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: This type of therapy can be helpful if you experience unwanted thoughts. It uses acceptance and mindfulness techniques to help reframe these thoughts.

Get 10 tips on how to ease anxiety here.

How to keep blood pressure low

If you have high blood pressure, a doctor will usually suggest making lifestyle changes to help bring it down. This may be in addition to medications.

Lifestyle changes

Some lifestyle changes that doctors may recommend to help lower blood pressure include:

  • Following a heart-healthy diet: This may include limiting or avoiding red meats and salt.
  • Avoiding alcohol: Work with your doctor to understand how you can limit your consumption of alcohol.
  • Exercising: Even beginning small amounts of physical activity can help lower blood pressure.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight: In people with overweight or obesity, losing as little as 3–5% of their body weight can help improve their blood pressure.
  • Avoiding smoking: Discuss ways to help you quit smoking with a healthcare professional, if necessary.
  • Improving sleep hygiene: Starting habits such as establishing a bedtime routine can help improve sleep, which can lower blood pressure.
  • Improving stress levels: Try mindful activities such as yoga and breathing exercises to help lower stress.

Medication

There are several types of medication that you can take to lower your blood pressure. Talk with a doctor about which one is right for you.

Some blood pressure medications include:

  • angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
  • angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • calcium channel blockers
  • diuretics
  • beta-blockers

Learn more about medications for high blood pressure here.

When to contact a doctor for high blood pressure

If you take blood pressure readings at home and notice regular readings that are high, seek medical support.

Call your doctor if you:

  • notice a particular spike in your blood pressure that remains after a few minutes
  • have blurred vision or a headache due to high blood pressure
  • feel dizzy

Someone should call 911 if you have fainted and you believe it is because of high blood pressure.

If you notice side effects from your blood pressure medication or do not believe that it is working properly, seek medical advice.

Learn more about contacting a doctor for high blood pressure here.

When to contact a doctor for anxiety

Experiencing occasional anxiety is a natural part of life. However, experiencing anxiety on a regular basis or experiencing other symptoms due to anxiety indicates that you could benefit from medical support. Anxiety can interfere with daily life, and treatment can often improve your quality of life.

Anyone who feels concerned about their anxiety should contact a medical professional.

Learn eight things doctors want you to know about anxiety here.

Summary

In some cases, anxiety can cause high blood pressure in the long term. This can be due to the effects of anxiety or anxiety medications on the body. Usually, however, anxiety causes blood pressure readings to spike temporarily.

There are several medications that you can take to ease this anxiety that do not affect your blood pressure. There are also numerous lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your anxiety levels and blood pressure readings.

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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 20
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