How Stress Causes Hypertension and What You Can Do About It

Stress can raise blood pressure and has been associated with adverse cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) events. Learning to manage stress can make a difference in overall health, and it can potentially lower high blood pressure (hypertension).

Read on to learn more about the relationship between temporary and long-term stress on blood pressure and some tips to manage stress levels.

Stressed out man

The Good Brigade / Getty Images

How Stress Affects Blood Pressure

Stress can be either short term (acute) or long term (chronic). Acute stressors include anxiety from a healthcare provider's visit, nerves before giving a speech, arguments, and driving conditions. Chronic stress, on the other hand, includes long-standing problems like relationship issues, financial troubles, food insecurity, and job-related stress.

Both acute and chronic stress can affect the cardiovascular system by changing your hormone levels.

Stress and Hormone Levels

The body's fight-or-flight response can affect the entire body, including your blood pressure. This stress response is the body's reaction to an acute stressor and prepares the body to either face or flee from a threat.

When someone encounters a threat, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones ready the body to respond to a threat, which causes the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate and widening of the airways
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased blood flow to muscles, decreased blood flow from digestive organs

Temporary Spikes

Temporary spikes in blood pressure in response to acute stress are normal and expected. The American Heart Association recommends that blood pressure be measured after a person has been sitting quietly for five minutes.

This is because of the effect that even minor acute stress (like driving in traffic and navigating the healthcare provider's office or clinic), in addition to the physical effect of walking to the exam room, can have on blood pressure.

People with white-coat hypertension, high blood pressure from the stress of being at a healthcare provider's office, can have an increased blood pressure reading at a clinic but normal blood pressure at home.

Chronic Stress and Long-Term Hypertension

The relationship between chronic stress and long-term hypertension has been more complicated to prove. However, studies have shown that chronic stress is not only related to higher blood pressure, but also to other forms of cardiovascular disease, like heart attacks and strokes.

Stress is unavoidable, but how you deal with stress appears to have an important role in the effect it has on your health.

The Link Between Health and Stress

There are many reasons for poor health, some of which overlap with or cause chronic stress. They also contribute to disparities in health outcomes among populations. For example, financial insecurity, food access problems, and lack of access to a safe space to exercise can contribute to overall stress, as well as high blood pressure, heart disease, and other poor health outcomes.

Ways to Reduce Stress

Managing stress is important not just for mental well-being, but for physical health as well.

The following are some ways to help manage stress:

  • Identifying and avoiding or managing potential triggers to stress
  • Prioritizing adequate, good-quality sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Finding a support system
  • Activities like meditation, yoga,

It's also important to avoid coping mechanisms that can contribute to stress and poor health, like smoking, binge eating, and alcohol or drug use.

Stress Management Techniques and Blood Pressure

Not all stress management techniques have shown an effect on lowering blood pressure. The greatest benefit comes from regular physical exercise, a healthy diet, and drinking alcohol in moderation. Techniques like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and biofeedback do not have as strong evidence for their benefit on blood pressure lowering in the long term.

However, while the effect of these stress-reduction techniques on blood pressure has been less promising, their benefits on overall health can still make them worthwhile.

How to Find Help With Stress

When stress levels are interfering with your well-being and your physical health, it's time to look for ways to manage stress. Finding a support system within friends, family, or seeing a therapist for talk therapy can help.

There are many resources available to those seeking to manage stress levels. Your healthcare provider can provide referrals. Options exist for both online and in-person counseling and support for stress management. The American Heart Association offers resources on stress management.


Stress affects mental health, but it also comes with a myriad of physical effects, including increased blood pressure and heart disease risk. There are many ways to help lower stress, which can improve overall health. Some techniques also have proven effects on lowering blood pressure. Support for stress reduction can come from family, friends, or a trusted counselor or therapist.

A Word From Verywell

Stress can take a great toll on both mental and physical health. When facing stressful periods, you can feel overwhelmed regarding what to do to manage stress or where to go for help. It may help to start with small steps, like setting a daily goal for mindfulness or taking a daily walk outside. Your healthcare provider is also available for help and to provide resources for a therapist, counselor, or support group.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does stress make your blood pressure go up?

    Both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) stress have been associated with increased blood pressure. Acute stress can have a dramatic effect on raising blood pressure through the body's stress response, which includes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The link between chronic stress and high blood pressure is not as clear and still under investigation, and unhealthy responses to stress may contribute to this.

  • Can depression cause hypertension?

    Depression and hypertension often occur together, though it is unclear whether depression actually causes hypertension, since studies have been conflicting. Research suggests that people with depression experience worse health outcomes

7 Sources
Verywell Health 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 Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body.

  2. Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: Executive summary: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. 2018 Sep;72(3):e33]. Hypertension. 2018;71(6):1269-1324. doi:10.1161/HYP.0000000000000066

  3. Osborne MT, Shin LM, Mehta NN, Pitman RK, Fayad ZA, Tawakol A. Disentangling the links between psychosocial stress and cardiovascular diseaseCirc Cardiovasc Imaging. 2020;13(8):e010931. doi:10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.120.010931

  4. MedlinePlus. Learn to manage stress.

  5. American Heart Association. Managing stress to control high blood pressure.

  6. Kabutoya, T., Kario, K. Depression in hypertension and blood pressure variability over shorter time periodsHypertens Res. 2015;38:713-715. doi:10.1038/hr.2015.92

  7. Kessing LV, Rytgaard HC, Ekstrøm CT, Torp-Pedersen C, Berk M, Gerds TA. Antihypertensive drugs and risk of depression: A nationwide population-based studyHypertension. 2020;76(4):1263-1279. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.120.15605

By Angela Ryan Lee, MD
Angela Ryan Lee, MD, is board-certified in cardiovascular diseases and internal medicine. She is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and holds board certifications from the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology and the National Board of Echocardiography. She completed undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia with a B.S. in Biology, medical school at Jefferson Medical College, and internal medicine residency and cardiovascular diseases fellowship at the George Washington University Hospital. Her professional interests include preventive cardiology, medical journalism, and health policy.