July 22, 2019

Anxiety and high blood pressure: Reduce your risk

We all feel anxiety from time to time. Imagine your boss asking you to fill in and give the big presentation tomorrow, or being stuck in traffic with screaming kids - your immediate physical reaction might be a faster heart rate or a spike in blood pressure, even shaky hands or shortness of breath.

For most people, once the stressor is gone – you've prepared for your presentation or the traffic has eased up – you calm down and your blood pressure and heart rate return to normal.

But for people with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, these moments of stress can be more serious.

UW Health cardiologist Dr. Heather Johnson says that's because regulatory functions are different in a person with hypertension.

"In individuals with hypertension, the body has a difficult time controlling the blood pressure during daily activities," she explained. "Therefore, moments of higher stress can further increase the blood pressure." 

If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Dr. Johnson recommends a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to reduce stress. She offers these ideas:

  • Deep breathing exercises

  • Listening to music

  • Dancing

  • Going to the movies

  • Participating in exercise and physical activity, including just taking a walk. 

A good night's sleep and avoiding large amounts of caffeine and alcohol can also be very helpful, she added.