Stress-Induced Hypertension

by Angela Ryan Lee

Stress can raise blood pressure and has been associated with adverse cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) events. Learning to manage stress can make a difference in overall health, and it can potentially lower high blood pressure (hypertension).

How Stress Affects Blood Pressure

Stress can be either short term (acute) or long term (chronic). Acute stressors include anxiety from a healthcare provider’s visit, nerves before giving a speech, arguments, and driving conditions. Chronic stress, on the other hand, includes long-standing problems like relationship issues, financial troubles, food insecurity, and job-related stress.

Both acute and chronic stress can affect the cardiovascular system by changing your hormone levels.

Stress and Hormone Levels

The body’s fight-or-flight response can affect the entire body, including your blood pressure. This stress response is the body’s reaction to an acute stressor and prepares the body to either face or flee from a threat.

When someone encounters a threat, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones ready the body to respond to a threat, which causes the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate and widening of the airways
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased blood flow to muscles, decreased blood flow from digestive organs

Stress can cause a myriad of emotions, including:

Anxiety, Fear, Anger, Sadness, Irritability, Frustration, Depression

Stress can also cause several physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pain (headaches and/or back and shoulder pain)
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion or digestive issues like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
  • Hyperventilating (breathing too fast and/or too deeply) or shallow breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heart palpitations (noticeable changes in the way the heart beats)

Other physical symptoms include fatigue, a heaviness in your chest that may include increased heart rate or chest pain, jaw clenching or teeth grinding, dizziness, and feeling anxious or depressed.3

Mental and behavioral symptoms include:

  • Becoming more emotional
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty in problem-solving, decision making, concentration, completing your work
  • Using drugs, food, alcohol to cope with the stress
Temporary Spikes

Temporary spikes in blood pressure in response to acute stress are normal and expected. The American Heart Association recommends that blood pressure be measured after a person has been sitting quietly for five minutes.

This is because of the effect that even minor acute stress (like driving in traffic and navigating the healthcare provider’s office or clinic), in addition to the physical effect of walking to the exam room, can have on blood pressure.

People with white-coat hypertension, high blood pressure from the stress of being at a healthcare provider’s office, can have an increased blood pressure reading at a clinic but normal blood pressure at home.

Chronic Stress and Long-Term Hypertension

The relationship between chronic stress and long-term hypertension has been more complicated to prove. However, studies have shown that chronic stress is not only related to higher blood pressure, but also to other forms of cardiovascular disease, like heart attacks and strokes.

Stress is unavoidable, but how you deal with stress appears to have an important role in the effect it has on your health.

The Link Between Health and Stress

There are many reasons for poor health, some of which overlap with or cause chronic stress. They also contribute to disparities in health outcomes among populations. For example, financial insecurity, food access problems, and lack of access to a safe space to exercise can contribute to overall stress, as well as high blood pressure, heart disease, and other poor health outcomes.


Ways to Reduce Stress

Managing stress is important not just for mental well-being, but for physical health as well.

The following are some ways to help manage stress:

  • Identifying and avoiding or managing potential triggers to stress
  • Prioritizing adequate, good-quality sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Breathwork
  • Finding a support system
  • Activities like meditation, yoga,

It’s also important to avoid coping mechanisms that can contribute to stress and poor health, like smoking, binge eating, and alcohol or drug use.

Stress Management Techniques and Blood Pressure

Not all stress management techniques have shown an effect on lowering blood pressure. The greatest benefit comes from regular physical exercise, a healthy diet, and drinking alcohol in moderation. Techniques like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and biofeedback do not have as strong evidence for their benefit on blood pressure lowering in the long term. However, while the effect of these stress-reduction techniques on blood pressure has been less promising, their benefits on overall health can still make them worthwhile.


How to Find Help With Stress

When stress levels are interfering with your well-being and your physical health, it’s time to look for ways to manage stress. Finding a support system within friends, family, or seeing a therapist for talk therapy can help.

There are many resources available to those seeking to manage stress levels. Your healthcare provider can provide referrals. Options exist for both online and in-person counselling and support for stress management.


Stress affects mental health, but it also comes with a myriad of physical effects, including increased blood pressure and heart disease risk. There are many ways to help lower stress, which can improve overall health. Some techniques also have proven effects on lowering blood pressure. Support for stress reduction can come from family, friends, or a trusted counsellor or therapist.

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