Does Stress Really Cause High Blood Pressure?
Heart disease — the leading cause of death in the United States — is a health condition with many possible causes. High blood pressure may be a major contributor in most cases, because it very rarely presents symptoms before severely damaging your heart.
Stress is often blamed for hypertension and related issues. But are the two as closely related as you’ve been led to believe?
This is how stress affects your body, how it might contribute to high blood pressure in unexpected ways, and what you can do to protect your heart before additional health problems surface.
What stress does to your body
A little stress is actually a good thing. But too much can destroy various aspects of your health. This includes dietary habits and weight gain, problems sleeping, and changes in how well your body can fight off infections. Chronic stress:
- Decreases immune system efficiency
- Causes sleep problems
- Messes with your digestive system
- Can cause an increase or decrease in appetite
- May lead to weight gain and related health problems.
Stressful situations temporarily cause your blood pressure to spike. But long-term stress can trigger negative behaviors — like overeating — that cause other health concerns.
How stress raises blood pressure
There is technically no scientific proof that stress causes high blood pressure directly. However, you likely know from experience that stress makes you do things that aren’t good for you — whether intentional or not.
For example, stress increases the production of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone, among other factors, can cause overeating and might even make you crave foods high in sugar.
Stress affects people’s behaviors in a number of ways, such as:
- Eating too much (especially foods that contribute to high blood pressure)
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Avoiding exercise.
We’re still not completely sure if there’s a direct relationship between high blood pressure and stress. What health experts do know for sure is that certain activities — such as exercise — can reduce high blood pressure.
Healthy ways to manage stress anywhere
Your go-to stress relievers may not be the best coping mechanisms — especially when trying to combat high blood pressure. You can’t always eliminate sources of stress from your life (e.g., quit your stressful job). But there are a few things you can do to handle various types of stress better.
- Practice good “sleep hygiene.” Try to stick to a sleep schedule, sleep with your phone out of reach, and don’t use your bedroom for activities that it isn’t typically used for (e.g., reading or watching TV).
- Find a physical activity you’ll look forward to. Exercise strengthens your heart so it doesn’t have to work so hard to pump blood throughout your body. Engaging in physical activity regularly makes a huge difference — but you have to do it consistently. That’s why it’s important to choose an activity you like, such as hiking or cycling.
- Try meditating. There are different ways to meditate — it’s not always about sitting alone in a room with your eyes closed. Research has shown that learning to slow down and be mindful of your surroundings can reduce stress and help you relax amidst the chaos.
Stress can trigger certain behaviors that may contribute to high blood pressure. It’s important to target these behaviors and replace them with healthier habits to protect your health in the long-term.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, and constant stress is interfering with your daily life, you may benefit from talking with your doctor before other health problems arise. They may be able to refer you to a licensed professional who can help you learn to cope with daily stressors and improve both your mental and physical health.