Your question: Why does my blood pressure rise when I have anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

As a universal experience, anxiety can manifest itself in multiple forms. In small doses, anxiety is necessary and does not represent a problem. However, when it becomes very recurrent and intense, it can trigger physical and emotional problems that affect the quality of life.

If you are reading this, you are probably wondering if it is normal for anxiety to affect your blood pressure. The truth is that the physical manifestations of anxiety are very varied, some people feel tachycardia and sweating, others suffer headaches and stomach pain, and others, like you, feel their blood pressure increases, which is accompanied by fatigue and nervousness.

Research has found a link between anxiety and hypertension. Anxiety attacks can increase blood pressure sporadically and momentarily, but they cannot cause a hypertension problem as such. On the other hand, having hypertension and being constantly checked to regulate blood pressure can generate health anxiety (1).

To answer your question, yes, anxiety can raise your blood pressure when it is very intense, but it is usually momentary and occurs specifically at the time of an anxiety episode. Your blood pressure should stabilize once the anxious episode is over.

However, this can be a nagging concern for you. It is something I fully understand, so through this article I would like to guide you through the reasons why anxiety can affect your blood pressure, getting to know your body and the causes of your anxiety better, and finally providing you with strategies that will allow you to cope with this problem.

Why does anxiety increase your blood pressure?

In a nutshell, anxiety is a warning signal that is activated in your body when your brain perceives a threat, whether real, exaggerated or imagined. In this state of alert, the fight or flight response is activated, which demands that you make a decision in the face of that potential threat.

During this process, your body and mind are accelerated because they must make a decision: run away from the threat, confront it or remain paralyzed. Either way, you experience tachycardia, sweating, muscle tension and excessive worry during an episode of anxiety.

This physical symptomatology occurs because your body fills with adrenaline, causing this increase in blood pressure that may be momentary, but is abrupt and distressing for the person. Other symptoms associated with anxiety and increased blood pressure are fatigue and dizziness.

Although your blood pressure returns to normal levels when the anxiety attack ends, it is normal for your worry to remain, believing that there is something wrong with your body. This is normal during anxiety, however, there are ways to prevent it from occurring and to deal with the anxious symptoms so that they do not affect your blood pressure so intensely.

How can you prevent it?

In the long term, anxiety can aggravate cardiovascular problems, so it is necessary that if you have a previous diagnosis of hypertension, you maintain constant supervision with your doctor. In general, it is recommended that you avoid smoking and drinking alcohol in excess. Likewise, you should work on maintaining healthy sleeping and eating habits. This not only helps to keep your blood pressure stable but also to prevent the onset of anxiety episodes that increase it abruptly.

How to cope with your anxiety?

Dealing with anxiety in general can be a complicated task, but not impossible. Through coping strategies you can learn to gradually control your anxious symptoms by seeing professionals such as psychologists when you feel the problem continues to worsen, especially when your blood pressure remains unstable.

Keep a diary about your anxiety

Recording in a notebook the facts related to your anxiety has several functions. On the one hand, it allows you to express yourself honestly about your emotional problems in a private place; on the other hand, it allows you to identify patterns that trigger your anxious symptoms. Write down in your diary the episodes of anxiety you experience during the day, as well as the related facts: who you were with at the time, what was happening, where you were, and what you felt.

By describing these details, specifying whether you suffered a rise in blood pressure at that time, you will be able to observe which scenarios and people are associated with your anxiety episodes, allowing you to start making changes in your life to prevent anxiety in the future.

Breathing and relaxation

Inhale through your nose for three seconds, exhale through your mouth for another three seconds. This while you close your eyes and feel how slowly the tension in your body decreases. You can apply this exercise for at least 10 minutes a day at different times, and just after experiencing an episode of anxiety.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This technique consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a given moment. It is useful when you experience a lot of physical agitation or when you feel you have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and you find it difficult to control your emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This will allow you to focus your attention on specific things during the period of anxiety, and slowly, the feeling of intense worry will diminish.

In my experience…

Feeling your blood pressure rise because of anxiety is a common problem. Many people with hypertension also deal with anxious symptoms. Although it may scare you, this is not necessarily life-threatening or a health risk as long as you give it the necessary attention, see doctors and psychologists, and work on strengthening your coping strategies to deal with anxiety. You have the strength and capacity to do this.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health.

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