Does Stress Cause High Blood Pressure?

stressed man Christmas shopping using a laptop

Sally Anscombe/DigitalVision/Getty

What happens to our blood pressure if we are constantly stressed? Research has shown that chronic stress can negatively affect your overall health and possibly contribute to high blood pressure.

In this article, we dive into what blood pressure is, the causes and risks of high blood pressure, the relationship between stress and blood pressure and some stress-reducing activities to help manage high blood pressure.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the amount of pressure or force the blood exerts against the walls of your blood vessels when the heart beats.

Blood pressure is measured with two numbers. Systolic blood pressure measures the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts and pumps blood out. Diaslotic blood pressure measures the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart rests and fills will blood.

For adults, a normal blood pressure reading is a systolic pressure of lower than 120 and a diastolic pressure of lower than 80.

Causes and Risks of High Blood Pressure

A high blood pressure reading occurs when the systolic pressure is at or greater than 130 and the diastolic pressure is at or greater than 80. 

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a significant health issue amongst adults. 47% of adults in the United States have high blood pressure or are taking medication to control their hypertension.

Hypertension can affect anyone. There are many different factors that can increase a person’s risk. Some factors that cannot be changed include:

  • Age: The older you are, the higher chance you will develop hypertension.
  • Gender: Males are more likely to have hypertension before the age of 55 compared to females. Females have an increased risk of it after menopause. 
  • Genetics: A family history of high blood pressure increases your risk
  • Race: Black people are more likely to develop hypertension and earlier in life compared to other ethnicities.

Lifestyle choices that can increase your risk of high blood pressure include:

  • A diet high in salt and low in potassium
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Tobacco use

Someone with high blood pressure may not show any signs or symptoms. That is why it is sometimes referred to as the “Silent Killer”. Hypertension was listed as a primary or contributing cause for more than 670,000 deaths in the US in 2020. 

When high blood pressure isn’t managed properly, it can result in serious health conditions such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease or failure, vision loss, eye problems and sexual dysfunction.

Therefore, it is important to regularly check your blood pressure so that you can seek medical intervention early and manage your risk of illness.

The Effect Of Stress On Blood Pressure

During a stressful situation, our bodies release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol as part of our “fight-or-flight” response. This causes our heart rate to increase and blood vessels to constrict as we react to the stressor. Our blood pressure will rise because our heart is pumping faster and our arteries are narrower. 

When the stressful situation is over and our bodies relax, our blood pressure will return to normal and the other effects will disappear. 

There isn’t conclusive proof that chronic stress directly causes long-term high blood pressure. However, a 2021 study showed preliminary results that linked urinary stress hormones, hypertension and cardiovascular events.

The researchers measured stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, dopamine and norepinephrine) in urine samples of 412 participants who did not have high blood pressure at the baseline. After a follow-up of a median of 11.2 years, it showed that higher urinary stress hormone levels were associated with an increased risk of hypertension. In addition, when cortisol levels were doubled, it was associated with a higher risk of incident cardiovascular events.

The study concluded that the relationship between chronic stress and blood pressure isn’t completely clear and still needs to be further investigated. However, if stress isn’t managed appropriately, it can indirectly cause hypertension.

Some unhealthy coping responses to stress that can cause hypertension include drinking too much alcohol, smoking and eating an unbalanced diet high in sugar, fat and salt.

In addition, chronic stress has been linked to medical conditions that can negatively affect your physical, emotional and mental well-being. Specifically, repeated exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones over a prolonged period has been shown cause anxiety, depression, memory problems, headaches, poor sleep, digestive issues, heart disease, stroke and obesity.

Tips For Reducing Stress to Manage High Blood Pressure

Stress management is incredibly valuable and essential in maintaining a healthy and happy life. Adopting positive habits to manage stress can protect you from serious health issues, make you feel good, have more energy and in turn, reduce blood pressure. Some tips include:

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Getting good-quality sleep, exercising regularly, eating nutritious food, and limiting alcohol and tobacco use can have long-lasting benefits to your physical and mental health.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Guided imagery, mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation and yoga have proven to help relieve stress, improve sleep and make you feel less anxious.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively: Leaving things to the last minute can make anyone feel overwhelmed. Staying organized with to-do lists and planning ahead can allow you enough time to get things done and help minimize unnecessary stress.
  • Don’t overstretch yourself: It can be hard to say no but when we take on too much, it can cause us to work beyond our limits. Prioritize what needs to get done and forgo requests that aren’t urgent or necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can’t do it all.
  • Focus on what you can control in life: You can’t control how other people act, what you see on the news or the turn of events. However, you can control how you react and respond to these stressors. Focus on tackling problems that you can do something about.
  • Invest in healthy social relationships: Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. Strengthening relationships with those who are supportive and understanding can help you feel less alone during stressful times.
  • Talk to a therapist or healthcare professional: Sharing your concerns with a professional can help you identify triggers, give clarity on your feelings, break down negative thought patterns and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association. Managing Stress to Control High Blood Pressure

  2. NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). High Blood Pressure and Older Adults

  3. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Facts About Hypertension

  4. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Know Your Risk for High Blood Pressure

  5. American Heart Association. Health Threats from High Blood Pressure

  6. Inoue K, Horwich T, Bhatnagar R, et al. Urinary stress hormones, hypertension, and cardiovascular events: the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Hypertension. 2021;78(5):1640–1647. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.121.17618

  7. Harvard Health Publishing. Understanding the stress response

  8. American Heart Association. Lower Stress: How does stress affect the body?

By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality and systems improvement projects, and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services, and women's health. Her expertise in facilitating, storytelling, coaching, and promoting tough and honest conversations provides the foundation for her site, Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve.