The Link Between Stress and Hypertension

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, or high blood pressure, you may want to consider your day-to-day stress levels. Stress is a normal, and important, physical reaction to certain circumstances. However, if you live with chronic stress, your health is likely to suffer. 

Hypertension is a symptom of heart disease, and can be dangerous. There does appear to be a link between hypertension and stress, but scientists are still working on exactly how the two are intertwined. 

Short term effects of stress

Stress is your body preparing to fight or fly. Several things happen at once when you’re in a stressful situation: your body releases certain hormones, your heart beats faster, your muscles tense, and your blood pressure rises. All of that makes sense if you’re preparing to run from a saber toothed tiger, but in the modern world, those physical reactions are often unnecessary. 

The question that researchers are struggling with is what happens in the long term when your body behaves as if you need to run from a saber toothed tiger several times a day? One recent study reported that adults with work stress or stress in their personal lives are one to one-and-a half times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to those without such stress. 

Coping with stress

Although there’s a clear link between stress and blood pressure in the short term, researchers haven’t clearly defined how stress and blood pressure are related in the longer term, other than identifying that there is a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. How you cope with stress could raise your blood pressure. 

Unfortunately, there are several very common, unhealthy coping mechanisms that people under stress turn to, including smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and drinking alcohol. Each of those methods of coping can lead to hypertension. 

The problem with reducing stress

Being told you need to reduce the amount of stress in your life is not very helpful. You can’t stop going to work, so if your job is the source of your stress, what should you do? 

If your family causes you stress, you can’t — or probably don’t want to — abandon them. How can you reduce stress in your life when the stress arises from situations you can’t control? 

There are some ways you may be able to reduce stress. For example, if you’re in clubs, serve on committees, or have volunteer work that causes stress, you can reduce those obligations. Examining how you spend your time and which activities cause you stress can be a critical first step in reducing stress. 

Healthier coping methods

For all the stressful situations you can’t control, you may be able to find healthy methods to cope with the stress. Even if some of them seem silly, or you can’t see how they could possibly help, you should try them. You might be surprised! 

Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the most beneficial methods for dealing with stress. It also helps to strengthen your cardiovascular system and gives you more energy overall. 

An important part of putting together a regular exercise schedule for yourself is finding activities that you enjoy. If you plan to go to the gym three times a week but you hate everything about the gym, chances are you won’t keep going for very long — and then you’ll feel stressed about not going! 

Try different activities until you find something that you enjoy. 

Breathe

You have to keep breathing to keep living, and simply focusing on your breathing might feel useless, but it may help. It’s also something you can do anytime, anywhere, which makes it useful for work situations.

Try counting to four as you breathe in, holding your breath in for a count of four, then exhaling as you count to four. Focus on the air flowing into and out of your body as you do this a few times. This simple exercise may help you feel immediately more relaxed. 

Sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation is, by itself, associated with a slew of health issues. Getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to lower your overall stress level, and like exercise, comes with numerous other benefits.

If you’d like to learn more about the link between stress and hypertension, book an appointment at Apex Medical Center today. Our providers are happy to discuss your individual situation and help you evaluate your own stress levels. You can easily book online by choosing “book online” from the menu options on our website,  or simply give us a call.

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