Stress and High Blood Pressure: How Are They Related?

There is a direct relationship between stress and high blood pressure. We'll tell you what it is and what you can do about it here.
Stress and High Blood Pressure: How Are They Related?
Diego Pereira

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Diego Pereira.

Last update: 09 May, 2023

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently around 1.28 billion adults between the ages of 30 and 79 suffering from high blood pressure. The data is worrying, and overlaps with others such as psychological disorders. Today, we’re going talk about the relationship between stress and high blood pressure and why you should pay attention to it.

According to data from the American Institute of Stress (AIS), up to 77% of people live with some degree of stress in their daily lives. It’s a natural response to cope with problems, but unfortunately, we depend on it too much, or at least we have become accustomed to its symptoms. In this article, learn why you should be interested in this connection and what to do about it.

The relationship between stress and high blood pressure

El estrés y presión arterial alta se relacionan por conexiones neuronales
The nervous system has a direct action on the cardiovascular system, so stressful situations can easily affect blood pressure.

As the American Psychological Association (APA) tells us, stress develops due to an interaction between internal and external phenomena that cause an alteration in almost every system of the organism. Stress is a very complex phenomenon, but in very simple terms, it’s a set of physiological and psychological reactions that the body manifests in the face of a challenge.

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These reactions give rise to two possibilities: positive stress and negative stress. In both cases, it’s regulated by the sympathetic nervous system and some of the most frequent reactions are the following:

  • Peripheral vasoconstriction
  • Slowing of intestinal motility
  • Massive release into the bloodstream of cortisol, enkephalin, adrenalin, and noradrenalin
  • Increase in blood glucose
  • Increase in the defense capacity of the immune system
  • Acceleration of clotting factors (blood thickens)

All of the above is developed as a defense mechanism for the body to respond better to a situation that threatens its integrity. Stress isn’t just an emotional discomfort, but has practical consequences on almost every system in your body.

The American Heart Association reminds us that stress accelerates the heart rate and constricts blood vessels. All this is in order to bring more blood to the central part of the body instead of to the extremities. As a result, there’s an increase in blood pressure due to stress.

This phenomenon is temporary, so it lasts as long as other symptoms of stress do. This is why researchers point out that stress doesn’t directly cause hypertension, but it can have an effect on its development.

This is because, as the evidence indicates, recovery to the pre-stress level is more delayed and with greater cardiovascular effects than was imagined a few decades ago. Because of this, patients diagnosed with hypertension, risk groups, and in general, all people should control these episodes to keep their blood pressure at healthy values.

Work stress and hypertension

As is well known, there are different types of stress. For several decades now, the label work stress has been popularized to refer to episodes that are triggered in a work context. Researchers continue to warn that work stress is an important factor in the development of high blood pressure.

Long working hours, pressure to meet targets, fear of job cuts, and the need to earn more money are just some of the factors that can lead to stress at work. The burnt-out worker syndrome, also known as burnout is a potential risk for subjects diagnosed with hypertension. The WHO has included it in ICD-11.

7 ways to reduce stress to control high blood pressure

El estrés y presión arterial alta pueden manejarse
Finding the way to manage stress depends on each person, so identifying the primary cause is fundamental.

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You’ve already learned why stress causes high blood pressure and how these episodes can be counterproductive for patients with hypertension. However, we can’t say goodbye without first picking up a series of practical tips to reduce its incidence in our day-to-day lives.

We reiterate again that there’s no evidence that stress directly causes high blood pressure (the disease), but it’s one of many factors that affect the process (along with genetic predisposition, weight, habits such as smoking, and so on). In the spirit of leading a healthier pace of life, and taking the suggestions of Harvard Health Publishing, we invite you to practice the following:

  • Improve the organization of your time so that you don’t leave important or difficult things for the last minute, manage your leisure time proportionally, and avoid accumulating tasks that will result in an increase in your stress levels.
  • Get enough rest: on average, it’s recommended to sleep eight hours a day without interruptions, not distributed in cycles of two or three breaks. Sleep will help your mind and body regain the energy needed to cope with your day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Broaden your social relationships so that your leisure time isn’t spent alone, but in the company of friends, family, or colleagues. Going to the movies, playing sports together, or attending meetings is very important for your mental health and strengthening your social relationships.
  • Practice relationship techniques such as yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. Include methods that give you peace of mind in your routine, so that you can turn to them as an escape when stress is lurking around the corner.
  • Solve stressful problems: the best response to problems that cause you stress is to face them, not run away from them. You’ll find that you can almost always solve them without major obstacles, since many times, we consider a problem more complicated than it really is.
  • Take care of yourself in all senses, since stress is often a consequence of neglecting ourselves. Implement a healthy diet, do sports, create a space in your agenda for things you like, reward yourself, and don’t let yourself be consumed by work or responsibilities.
  • Seek help: if despite doing all of the above you are unable to manage your stress, then don’t hesitate to seek professional help. As we have already explained, this reaction causes physiological alterations that affect your health, so you should never underestimate its effects in the medium and long term.

We also urge you to consult a cardiologist to assess the possible effects that stress has had or is having on your cardiovascular health. Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing your sodium intake are other basic tips for controlling hypertension.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kulkarni, S., O’Farrell, I., Erasi, M., & Kochar, M. S. Stress and hypertension. WMJ: official publication of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin. 1998; 97(11), 34-38.
  • Rosenthal, T., & Alter, A. Occupational stress and hypertension. Journal of the American Society of Hypertension. 2012; 6(1): 2-22.
  • Spruill, T. M. (2010). Chronic psychosocial stress and hypertension. Current hypertension reports. 2010; 12(1): 10-16.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.