Is your heart pounding? Feeling some dizziness? Is your face flushed? Maybe have a headache? You may believe that you are experiencing high blood pressure. However, according to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure (or hypertension) doesn’t usually present symptoms. The only way you can know for sure is to get a blood pressure reading.
The symptoms that you are experiencing are most likely due to anxiety. But can anxiety affect blood pressure? What’s the link between the two?
After reading this post, you’ll understand the link between anxiety and blood pressure, why maintaining an optimal blood pressure level is important and what you can do to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
WHY BLOOD PRESSURE MATTERS
Your heart pushes blood through your arteries to give your body oxygen and energy. As the blood moves, it pushes against the side of the vessels. Blood pressure refers to the force of that push against the vessels.
When your blood pressure is too high, it puts an extra strain on your arteries, veins and heart. This strain can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Hypertension isn’t generally something you feel or notice. It doesn’t produce obvious signs or symptoms, and that’s why it’s always measured as part of your checkup whenever you visit the doctor.
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN?
All blood pressure readings have two numbers or levels. The first (or top) number is the systolic pressure. That’s the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats.
The second (or bottom) number is the diastolic pressure. That’s the lowest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart relaxes between beats.
Ideally, your blood pressure reading should hover close to 120/80.
If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, you may have hypertension. High hypertension is a risk factor the following diseases:
- Heart attacks
- Heart and kidney disease
- Certain forms of dementia
Both the American Society of Hypertension and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association recommend that people diagnosed with or prone to high blood pressure monitor their blood pressure themselves. You can do so by visiting a pharmacy, most of which have a blood pressure monitor.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MONITORING YOUR OWN BLOOD PRESSURE
When your doctor takes your blood pressure, she’s just getting a snapshot, not a full picture of trends over time. Some people’s blood pressure spikes at the doctor’s office because they’re anxious. Others experience the reverse — normal blood pressure in the office but high blood pressure everywhere else.
People who monitor their blood pressure at home are able to record a more accurate representation of their blood pressure and are more successful at controlling it.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, for every 100 people with high blood pressure, 70 or more may not have it under control. If you’re ready to start tracking your blood pressure, Harvard Medical School published a helpful article with more guidance on monitoring your blood pressure at home.
WHAT CAUSES HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
High blood pressure has a variety of causes, some of which we can control, some of which we can’t. Some blood pressure factors we cannot control are:
- Ethnic origin
- Family history
But we can control:
- Sodium intake
- Not enough fruits and vegetables
- Being overweight
- Too much alcohol
ARE ANXIETY AND BLOOD PRESSURE RELATED?
First, stress and anxiety are not the same things, although they are closely related. Stress is caused by an existing factor — the stressor. Anxiety is stress that continues when the stressor is gone. You can learn more about the differences between these two states of being in this article.
Anxiety can have a negative impact on your blood pressure. It’s a reaction to situations perceived as stressful or dangerous. Anxiety affects how we feel and behave and manifests as physical symptoms that include hypertension. Prolonged stress can lead to anxiety, and prolonged anxiety can affect your blood pressure.
Scientists theorize that the stress reaction occurs in your brain’s amygdala – the region of the brain that controls emotional responses. Neurotransmitters carry impulses to the sympathetic nervous system which kick your body into alert: your heart and breathing rates increase, muscles become tense and your body diverts blood from abdominal organs to the brain.
But the physical effects of your body’s reaction to anxiety, when the condition persists, lead to long-term mental and physical health issues.
There’s a growing body of evidence supporting a connection between emotions and physiology. Anxiety has also been linked to chronic physical illnesses, including heart disease, gastrointestinal conditions and respiratory disorders.
While no direct causation, anxiety causes other physical reactions in your body that directly affect your blood pressure. Many recent studies have focused on the connection between anxiety and high blood pressure.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that a high level of anxiety after receiving a diagnosis of coronary artery disease contributes to a higher risk of heart attack or death among patients. Other studies, including this study on the Symptoms of Anxiety and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease, also suggests a correlation between anxiety and fatal coronary heart disease.
Since hypertension is one of the leading causes of heart disease, it’s easy to conclude that anxiety does have a negative effect on high blood pressure.
Here’s a breakdown of how this might happen. When you’re anxious:
- Your heartbeat increases, raising your blood pressure.
- You become deficient in important minerals like magnesium, which often causes other physical and mental symptoms
- Your blood pressure will spike temporarily as a result of those physiological responses to stress
Anxiety isn’t directly tied to long-term/chronic hypertension. However, if you suffer from a diagnosed anxiety disorder or have regular episodes, the high blood pressure that you experience can lead to damaged blood vessels, heart and kidneys.
GAUGE YOUR ANXIETY
Want to identify your level of anxiety? There’s a neat tool, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, that uses clinical indicators to identify whether you’re suffering from mild, moderate or severe symptoms. This 21-question multiple-choice assessment gauges your anxiety on a self-reported basis. You can take it once, or even multiple times throughout the week to identify the causes of your anxiety. If you’re doing things to control anxiety, the inventory can determine whether those methods are working. Several studies, including this one, have confirmed the Beck Anxiety Inventory’s reliability.
MANAGE YOUR ANXIETY
We wouldn’t suggest skipping a visit to your doctor if you’re concerned that your anxiety levels are dangerously high or if the anxiety you’re experiencing is having a significant negative impact on your life.
If you find yourself having moments of stress that lead to anxious feelings for a period of time, there are several options for natural anxiety relief:
- Deep breathing provides immediate relief – here are 7 five-minute meditations to help you find your inner peace
- Take a stroll through nature – here are 11 scientific reasons nature helps people relax
- Workouts and physical activity – sweat out the stress and anxiety with these six exercises
- Drink tea – here’s a list of ten types of tea to calm your nerves
- Lavender – as an oil especially, it’s a natural way to reduce stress and anxiety
- Pure dark chocolate – it reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms and other anxiety-reducing foods
- Holistic supplements like valerian
Consult your doctor if you find that you’re experiencing prolonged periods of anxiety. Chronic anxiety can lead to serious negative consequences for your physical and mental health.
Anxiety and blood pressure are closely linked. If you want some technological help in creating a low-anxiety and low-blood-pressure life, check out Spire. Spire tracks your breathing and sends you signals when you are exhibiting signs of stress to make sure you take control before anxiety becomes a problem in your life. Unlike the severe illnesses that come as a result of anxiety, anxiety doesn’t have to be an issue.