Do you feel nervous and experience high blood pressure? This combination is actually quite common. This article elaborates on how these two symptoms are linked and why you might be experiencing both.
One thing to take away from this article is that being nervous does raise your blood pressure.
To understand why that is the case, read this article. Understanding this link will help you understand and deal with what you are experiencing.
Understanding blood pressure
Blood pressure describes the force with which your blood runs through your veins. It changes depending on activity or stress levels. Blood pressure is lower during rest and higher during activity or in times of stress. By changing the blood pressure, the body tries to regulate the oxygen supply, and other molecules, to different tissues such as muscles.
How is blood pressure measured?
To measure blood pressure, you or a healthcare professional can use a blood pressure monitor. The machine has a cuff that can be wrapped around your arm. Through a pump, the cuff gets inflated, which might feel a bit tight. This way, the machine can read the blood pressure, which is shown in two numbers:1
- The first number is called systolic blood pressure and describes the force with which the blood is running while the heart is pumping.
- The second number is called diastolic blood pressure and stands for the force with which the blood is running while the heart is resting.
What is nervousness
Nervousness can be described as a state of restlessness. Feeling nervous might include symptoms such as:3
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
Common causes of nervousness
Nervousness is a state that people commonly experience when a fearful event is ahead, so when one is anxious. Being nervous often coincides with feeling anxious. Therefore, if you struggle with anxiety, it is likely you feel nervous.4
Common causes for nervousness:
- Big event ahead (e.g., job interview)
- Being in a scary or threatening situation
- Feeling triggered
- Anxiety (more information can be found on the NHS website)
Nervousness and blood pressure
Nervousness and blood pressure are interlinked. As already mentioned, a symptom of being nervous is high blood pressure. Nervousness can have different effects, not only on the mind but also on the body.
Does being nervous raise your blood pressure
Being nervous does raise your blood pressure.
Effects of being nervous in blood pressure
When in a state of nervousness, your body tries to prepare you to tackle whatever event is ahead. This can be linked back to evolution:
For example, you could be seeing a bear, which would make you nervous. While the bear might be behind bars or far away, your body wants to ensure that you are safe. Therefore, it already increases the blood pressure to increase the oxygen supply to the muscles, so that you would be ready to react by running, if need be.
This is a very extreme example, but the same mechanism is at hand with smaller reasons for nervousness, such as an interview or you might feel nervous without knowing why. Regardless, your body tries to protect you by raising your blood pressure.
To describe these different states of the body, professionals use the terms:
- Sympathetic Nervous System
- Parasympathetic Nervous System
These two systems simply describe whether the body is in a resting state and has lower blood pressure as a result (parasympathetic nervous system), or in an active state, such as during physical activity or nervousness, with higher blood pressure (sympathetic nervous system). While these two systems entail more adaptations in the body, blood pressure plays a major role.
When you are nervous, your sympathetic nervous system gets active and your blood pressure increases.
While higher blood pressure can be very useful as a temporary spike if you had to run away from a bear, it is less useful when you are nervous because of something in our modern world which could result in chronic high blood pressure. Therefore, it is good to know how to treat blood pressure.5
Managing blood pressure when nervous
To manage blood pressure when nervous, different things that are calming and lower nervousness and blood pressure can help. These include:3
- Breathing deeply and slowly through your nose
- Exercising/physical activity
Treatment and prevention
To treat and prevent nervousness resulting from high blood pressure, it is usually helpful to look at why you might be feeling nervous. Is there a specific thing in your life that causes you to feel that way? If so, is it possible to remove that stressor easily?
This process can be overwhelming and might be complicated. If that is the case, it is recommended to reach out to a healthcare practitioner or a counsellor.
However, oftentimes people feel nervous without knowing why. There might not be an obvious reason. In that case, it is also good to reach out to your healthcare provider to find ways to deal with your struggles or possible causes.4
Treatment options include:
- Medication for anxiety (prescribed by a healthcare practitioner)
- Focus on your breathing
- Grounding exercises
- Therapy/Anxiety treatment
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
When to seek medical attention
It is always recommended to seek medical attention when the problems you are struggling with interfere with your life noticeably. By seeking medical attention you may find the causes for feeling nervous and eliminate that feeling.
If you feel nervous and have raised blood pressure all the time, it is important to seek medical attention to avoid further complications.
Blood pressure describes the force with which your blood runs through your veins. Blood pressure levels change depending on physical activity and other factors, such as feeling anxious. Experiencing nervousness can be closely related to feeling anxious. Symptoms include sweating and chest pain.
Feeling nervous increases our blood pressure because of the fight and flight response in the body. The body is trying to protect us from possible harm. However, when we feel anxious the threat oftentimes is not as crucial as we think it is. Because we can feel nervous all the time, we might be experiencing chronically elevated blood pressure levels. To manage those, different exercises that lower our nervousness and anxiety levels, such as breathing exercises, can be very helpful. Furthermore, nervousness can be treated with therapy, such as CBT.
If you experience nervousness and high blood pressure frequently, reach out to your healthcare provider.
- Blood pressure test [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2018 [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/blood-pressure-test/
- Blood pressure: what’s normal for your age group? - klarity [Internet]. Klarity Health Library. [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://my.klarity.health/what-is-normal-blood-pressure-by-age/
- Anxiety - every mind matters [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2021 [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-health-issues/anxiety/
- Overview - Generalised anxiety disorder in adults [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2021 [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/overview/
- Mancia G, Grassi G. The autonomic nervous system and hypertension. Circulation Research [Internet]. 2014 May 23 [cited 2022 Oct 28];114(11):1804–14. Available from: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.114.302524