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Can anxiety raise blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol?

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Updated: May 11, 2019

My doctor just said my anxiety has raised my systolic rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Can anxiety actually do this?

Behaving in an apprehensive manner (anxiety) causes the body to produce the stress response. The stress response immediately secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat - to either fight with or flee from it - which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

Part of the stress response changes include elevating heart rate (which increases blood pressure) and increasing blood sugar so that the body is better equipped to fight or flee.

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. Consequently, the stress response changes are temporary. Under normal circumstances, these changes quickly subside and present no long-term effects.

When stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can cause the body to remain in a semi hyperstimulated state, since stress hormones are stimulants. We call this semi hyperstimulated state, stress-response hyperstimulation.

A body that becomes stress-response hyperstimulated can maintain the stress response changes long after a threat has passed. These changes can cause a persistent increase in blood pressure and blood sugar. In this case, yes, frequently behaving anxiously can cause blood pressure (including the systolic rate - the top number in a blood pressure reading) and blood sugar to rise.

Moreover, stress responses stress the body. Research has shown that persistent stress, such as that from stress-response hyperstimulation, can cause the bad cholesterol levels to rise. So here again, yes, frequently behaving apprehensively can cause the bad cholesterol levels to rise.

With regard to bad cholesterol, there can be other factors involved, too, such as diet, level of physical activity, and how your body produces cholesterol. But stress itself has been linked to an increase in bad cholesterol.

With the above in mind, again, yes, behaving anxiously can cause an increase in systolic rate, blood sugar, and bad cholesterol.

That’s the bad news.

The good news, however, is that you can reverse all of this by reducing your body’s stress, containing your anxious behavior (you can learn more about containment in Chapter 6 in the Recovery Support area of our website), regular light to moderate exercise (exercise is a great stress and cholesterol reducer), deep relaxation, rest, good sleep, patience, and time.

As your body recovers from its overly stressed state, blood pressure, blood sugar, and the bad cholesterol levels should return to healthy levels.

Keep in mind that it can take more time than you expect for your body to recover from the negative effects of elevated stress (stress-response hyperstimulation). This is why you have to practice your recovery strategies and be patient as your body responds favorably. There are no shortcuts to reversing hyperstimulation.

Nevertheless, once your body has completely recovered from the negative effects of anxiety-caused stress-response hyperstimulation, your systolic rate, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels should return to normal.

For more information about all of this, including a number of natural and practical ways to reverse the negative effects of stress-response hyperstimulation as well as realistic recovery expectations, members can read chapters 3 through 6 in the Recovery Support area of our website.

If you’d like help learning and applying the skill of containment, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety therapists, coaches, or counselors. They are well equipped to help you overcome problematic anxiety and its ill effects once and for all.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including information about can anxiety raise blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol.