According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million adults every year in the United States. Anxiety can cause a wide range of physical symptoms, including an increase in blood pressure levels.
Although anxiety isn’t linked to chronic high blood pressure, both short-term and chronic anxiety may cause your blood pressure to spike.
In this article, we’ll explore the link between anxiety and high blood pressure and treatment options for both.
When you begin to feel anxious because of a stressful situation, your body enters fight-or-flight mode. This happens due to the activation of your sympathetic nervous system. During fight-or-flight mode, your adrenaline and cortisol levels rise, both of which can lead to an increase in blood pressure.
Although stress and anxiety can cause high blood pressure, it’s only temporary, and levels generally return to normal once you’ve calmed down again.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a chronic condition that occurs when blood pressure levels are elevated. Chronic high blood pressure can be quite dangerous and can cause significant damage to the body, especially the brain, heart, kidneys, and eyes.
Hypertension is classified into two categories:
- Primary hypertension. This type of hypertension develops in the absence of a specific trigger and is the most common type of hypertension. Primary hypertension is often thought to develop due to genetic, environmental, or lifestyle causes.
- Secondary hypertension. The cause of this type of hypertension is generally known and is often another underlying condition. Secondary hypertension is often caused by conditions that affect the kidneys, heart, or thyroid.
Interestingly, anxiety can also cause a type of high blood pressure commonly called white coat hypertension. This type happens when your blood pressure is typically normal but spikes in a medical setting, such as a doctor’s office, due to medical anxiety.
Anxiety is a natural response to a perceived threat and is something that all of us experience from time to time. When you feel anxious and your fight-or-flight response is activated, you may experience:
- panic or dread
- rapid heart rate
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- shaking or trembling
- muscle twitches
- chills or hot flashes
- numbness or tingling
- weakness or fatigue
- nausea or vomiting
- poor concentration
- depersonalization or derealization
In some people, chronic anxiety is due to an underlying anxiety disorder rather than just environmental causes. Anxiety disorders include:
Just like anxiety can cause temporary high blood pressure, high blood pressure can sometimes cause anxiety.
For example, some symptoms of high blood pressure mimic those caused by anxiety, such as:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- changes in vision
Experiencing these symptoms or any other symptoms of high blood pressure can lead to an increase in anxiety.
In addition, having a chronic condition like high blood pressure can cause depression and anxiety. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that people who have chronic illnesses are more likely to experience mental health conditions, such as anxiety.
If you have frequent episodes of high blood pressure that are caused by anxiety, treating the underlying anxiety disorder can help bring your blood pressure back down to healthier levels.
Treatment options that may help include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the gold standard treatment for most anxiety disorders. CBT techniques can help address and change problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to anxiety.
Other treatment approaches can also be considered, depending on the type and severity of the anxiety disorder. For example, exposure therapy is effective for treating specific phobias, while trauma-focused therapy and interactive therapy such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be helpful for conditions like PTSD.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety disorders. SSRIs work by increase the uptake of serotonin in the brain, which can reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
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In some cases, benzodiazepines may be prescribed to provide short-term relief of anxiety symptoms. However, they’re highly addictive and are generally prescribed for short-term use only.
While psychotherapy and medications are effective methods for treating anxiety disorders, lifestyle changes are also important.
Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and moving your body physically. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and massage can also help.
Things you can do to feel less anxious
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, everyone can benefit from reducing their daily anxiety levels. Here are some changes that you can make in your daily life to lower your anxiety levels:
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is very important for overall health, and getting enough sleep can make a huge difference in daily anxiety levels. Most people need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, so make sure to aim for this.
- Eat a balanced diet. Eating nutritious foods can help support both your physical and mental well-being. Aim to fill your plate with whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, whenever possible.
- Move your body. Moving your body is important, whether that involves weight training at the gym or taking a walk around the block. Daily exercise and movement can help increase your endorphins and lower stress levels.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment, which is incredibly important when you have anxiety. Meditation is a great mindfulness practice to reduce daily stress and anxiety.
Medications used to treat anxiety can help reduce overall anxiety levels, which can reduce blood pressure spikes. However, some anxiety treatment options may also cause an increase in blood pressure levels.
If you have high blood pressure and have recently started taking medication for anxiety, keep track of any changes in your blood pressure levels. This can help your doctor determine if adjustments need to be made to any of your medications.
Treatment for high blood pressure generally involves making a handful of dietary and lifestyle changes. This includes increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting sodium, and increasing intake of whole foods.
If dietary and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your blood pressure naturally, certain
- beta-blockers (which are also prescribed to reduce symptoms of anxiety)
- ACE inhibitors
- angiotensin II receptor blockers
- calcium channel blockers
- alpha-2 agonists
Generally, if you have high blood pressure and it’s causing an increase in your anxiety, treating the high blood pressure can help to reduce your anxiety symptoms.
Although anxiety can’t cause chronic hypertension, there’s a definite connection between anxiety and blood pressure. Anxiety leads to a natural increase in blood pressure due to the fight-or-flight response, and high blood pressure can sometimes also lead to an increase in anxiety.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or high blood pressure that are impacting your daily life, talk with your doctor about which treatments may work for you.