Anxiety is among the most common of emotional disorders. At any given time, around 12 percent of the people in the general population experience one of the anxiety disorders. Two times as many women as men suffer from anxiety.
Any connection between anxiety and blood pressure has been the subject of debate among researchers and clinicians for quite some time. Is there a connection, what is it, and does it last?
While anxiety in itself doesn’t cause long-lasting hypertension, it does lead to a temporary spike in blood pressure. Some of those spikes can be intense and cause anxiety themselves.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is that emotion that you feel when you face, or think you face, some threat. This threat doesn’t have to be something others would consider a bad thing. If it’s threatening to you, your body responds with anxiety.
It’s a part of your natural fight or flight response. Your body “ramps itself up” to fight against or flee away from whatever you see as threatening. Several physical things can happen that are designed to protect you from harm. An increase in your heart rate is one of those physical responses in anxiety that happens naturally.
It also is the response that can bring on those spikes in blood pressure. Typically, once the threatening event is over, your anxiety lessens, and your blood pressure spike returns to normal.
What Is the Connection Between Anxiety and Blood Pressure?
Your blood pressure changes every once in a while during the day. This kind of fluctuation is normal and depends on what you’ve had to eat, how well you slept the night before, whether you’re sitting still or moving around, and how much stress is in your life.
But everyone experiences some anxiety at times. When you do, you can get a spike in blood pressure.
When you feel anxious, your heart beats faster to supply blood more rapidly to your muscles. When your heart beats faster, your systolic blood pressure increases due to the volume of blood. If you’re anxious, more blood rushes through your heart, and the ventricles (the chambers in your heart) contract, increasing the pressure there and in your blood vessels.
Anxiety can also bring low blood pressure. Some people tend to hyperventilate when anxious. They almost pant as they breathe, leading them to exhale too much carbon dioxide. This weakens the body, causing blood vessels to dilate lowering your blood pressure.
These temporary spikes in blood pressure, either high or low, usually return to normal after the anxiety is gone. You can even have periods of several hours feeling anxious and your body will still return to normal blood pressure with relief from the anxiety. The spikes in your blood pressure usually occur in the first stages of anxiety.
Most of the time, the anxiety experiences are short-term, something like taking a test or speaking in public. You feel the anxiety, your blood pressure spikes, then returns to normal after it’s over. Your body gets to rest and recover.
However, if you have heart disease, even these temporary spikes can cause a possible worsening of your heart condition.
But if you have an anxiety disorder, panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, etc., your body doesn’t get to recover. Your anxiety can continue for months or even years. So, the physical shock of anxiety continues. It’s possible for your body to literally get into the habit of having high blood pressure with this continuous anxiety state. Research has shown people with anxiety disorders are four times more likely to develop high blood pressure over the course of a year than those who don’t have an anxiety disorder.
It’s also possible for you to go for long periods of time, possibly even years, with anxiety and never develop high blood pressure. It’s always in your best interest to have regular physical check-ups to keep watch on your blood pressure. Hypertension is one of those chronic conditions that doesn’t always have obvious outward signs.
When you have anxiety that continues, you’re also more likely to develop habits that are not healthy and can also increase blood pressure. Habits like smoking, drinking alcohol excessively, and overeating all have a detrimental effect on your blood pressure. But these are habits that people with anxiety often develop. And, some of the medications prescribed to treat anxiety can increase your blood pressure.
What Can Be Done?
There are a number of ways to deal with anxiety and the stress it causes, or the stress that causes the anxiety. One of the first things you must do is learn to recognize the signs that you’re feeling anxious. These may be feeling your heart beating faster, noticing that you’re breathing in a different way than normal, or feeling tight and tense.
Once you know you’re anxious, doing something quickly will help decrease your anxiety and bring your blood pressure down to normal. If at all possible, getting out of the anxiety-producing situation will bring very fast relief.
It’s not always possible to get away from the situation, so other ways to reduce anxiety are needed. One way is exercise. Walking is probably the best overall exercise you can do. And, doing it when you’re not anxious will help as well. You build up a resistance to anxiety by walking regularly. If you don’t like walking or can’t do it, try yoga. There are several types of yoga, one of which could work for you.
Meditation and deep breathing exercises will also work, both when you’re anxious and when you’re not. Once again, there are several types of these exercises to choose from.
Get enough sleep. Most people in our culture don’t sleep enough. The goal to strive for is between seven and eight hours of sleep every night.
Avoid too much alcohol and caffeine. Both of these work to make blood pressure problems worse.
If you have an anxiety disorder, be sure to get treated for it. There are a number of good treatment options for these disorders.
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Control anxiety to stave off spikes in blood pressure. Retrieved from https://www.bcm.edu/news/psychiatry-and-behavior/control-anxiety-avoid-blood-pressure-spike
Anxiety disorders latest worry in high blood pressure. Retrieved from http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/10/27/42197.aspx