It's not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it. – Hans Selye
Approximately 73 million adults in America (about 1 in every 3) have high blood pressure.
Medically known as hypertension, this means that a person has blood pressure high enough to cause damage to his organs, which is why regular blood pressure screenings are important.
One often-overlooked strategy in preventing high blood pressure though, is stress management.
Hypertension and stress have long been linked.
In fact, there have been studies indicating that people who are prone to anger and have high energy levels, or what they call Type A personalities, are more at risk of developing heart disease.
But really, what is the real score on stress and high blood pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stress: Is there a connection?
Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple yes or no.
When the human body is in a state of distress, it reacts by increasing the levels of certain stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, resulting in a change in various operations in our body.
Some of the changes that happen are: the heart starts to beat faster and the arteries and blood vessels toward to the core of the body start constricting, leading to an increase in blood pressure.
This process is called the "fight or flight" response, and it is an evolutionary trait wherein our body decides to fight or flee when faced with threat.
The downside to this, however, is that the body can sometimes overreact in this same way to stressors that aren’t life threatening.
However, if the body is distressed and a spike in blood pressure is experienced, it returns to normal almost instantly once the cause of stress is eliminated.
The thing is, these temporary bouts of increased blood pressure can damage not only your blood vessels and heart, but the kidneys as well.
What's more, if you are chronically stressed (if you suffer from ongoing stress) then you will be likely to have chronically higher blood pressure too.
Another way stress increases blood pressure is by increasing the secretion of ADH or antidiuretic hormone.
Also called vasopressin, this is a hormone that constricts blood vessels and arteries, thereby increasing the pressure of the blood flowing through them.
High Blood Pressure Risks Increase Over Time
Living with chronic stress will eventually result in stress-induced hypertension so it is important to know what the different symptoms of stress are because high blood pressure usually doesn’t have many noticeable symptoms.
Below are some of physical symptoms of stress:
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Loss of sexual desire and/or inability
- Difficulty of sleeping or insomnia
- Frequent colds and infections
Your medical history is also a huge contributing factor into developing hypertension.
If your family has a history of high blood pressure, then you are more at risk of getting it.
Other risk factors include: lifestyle habits, gender, being overweight, and age.
Ways to Reduce Stress to Take Control of Your Blood Pressure
Identify Causes of Stress
In order to combat the stress, we must first identify the source so it can be removed and the road to recovery can begin.
Fortunately, human beings can find comfort in even the simplest of things, such as laughing with friends, spending time with a pet, and even practicing deep breathing exercises.
Savor the experience of an activity you love most.
Listening to music may help relieve stress, as well as having a massage, or trying new food. Focus on the pleasant sensation of each hobby or treat.
Manage Your Sleep Schedule
It goes without saying that most of us have to reduce the hours of sleep in order to accommodate duties and responsibilities, but according to Harvard Health Publishing and other reputable institutions, poor quality or inadequate sleep will affect your mood negatively, as well as cause a dent to your health overall, which includes energy level and mental alertness.
This can end up being a double edged sword because if your energy and awareness are down, your tasks can begin to pile up, further multiplying the stress you’re already facing.
Many people find comfort in exercise because it helps to take their mind off whatever is stressing them, and it also releases endorphins which is the body’s natural stress fighter.
Avoid food groups that are high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium.
To make sure you eat the right kind of foods, follow the DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
This diet is designed especially for those with high blood pressure, and focuses more on foods with high fiber, low sodium, and fruits and vegetables.
Every now and then, you should also indulge in your favorite foods.
Provided they won’t undermine your blood pressure goals, eating your favorites foods is another great way to release endorphins.
Hone Personal Relationships
While there are a few others who treasure their alone time, those who are stressed out are advised to reach out to friends and family, and even trying to let new people into their lives.
For example, you can strengthen your social network by joining a support group, taking yoga classes, or participating in a new organization in your neighborhood.
Ask For Help
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with work, for example, don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help from a close friend or co-worker.
Be Realistic in Your Time Management
Setting realistic deadlines with some wiggle room will allow you to not only relax and get tasks done on time without worrying, but it allows you some flexibility should any unexpected changes arise.
Mind-Body Practices and Natural Techniques to Control Blood Pressure
There's nothing more comforting than having a sound mind and body.
Given modern way of life is basically the biggest trigger for stress, you must learn how to relax.
Experts have credited meditation and yoga as being a viable method for lowering blood pressure and thankfully, it doesn't take much of your time.
A 30-minute yoga session per day is enough to help in reducing risks of hypertension.
Furthermore, there are a plethora of natural high blood pressure remedies out there that you can easily apply to your daily life to help to get it under control, or at least limit the need for medication.
Hawthorn berry extract. Hawthorn berries are rich in chemicals that will strengthen and help your arteries relax. Used since the ancient times, it has always been credited for its benefits to cardiovascular health.
Essential oils. Aromatherapy is an excellent way of relieving stress. Two well known essential oils for their ability to relieve stress and induce quality sleep are lavender and roman chamomile. After a hard day, diffuse one or a mix of these oils to help you relax and have a good night’s rest.
Garlic. Garlic has long been proven to help the blood vessels dilate and relax. When this happens, the blood will flow more freely, thus reducing blood pressure.
Grape seeds. The extract of grape seeds are rich in polyphenols, which has numerous health benefits. One of them being lowering blood pressure. Like garlic, grape seeds relax the blood vessels, allowing the smoother blood flow. Taking grape seed extract supplements, however, must be according to the advice of a healthcare physician.
Omega-3 fatty acids. There are food sources rich in omega-3, but since most of us don't get to prepare the food we eat daily, these fatty acids should be supplemented. However, like most vitamins and minerals, you should try to get them from your diet as much as possible.
Foods rich in omega-3 include such as squid, krill, and fish. Supplements are also available in the market.
Ginger. It's a good thing ginger is a staple in many households just like garlic. Although commonly used in Asian dishes, ginger can be made into all kinds of beverages, from juices to tea.
Ginger works the same as garlic -- improving blood circulation through relaxing the muscles in the blood vessels.
Communicate with Your Healthcare Provider
It is important to keep blood pressure in check in order to lower the risks of developing heart illnesses.
Blood pressure screenings should be done regularly, and if you happened to have been diagnosed with hypertension, follow your doctor's orders rigidly.
If your blood pressure isn’t too out of control, your doctor may suggest some lifestyle and diet changes, as well as some natural remedies before placing you on medication.
Should you wish to have changes or if you're uncomfortable with your treatment, voice it out.
Your doctor will help you understand and cope with the situation.
Do not venture out and seek your own treatment.
About the author
Trysh Sutton is a wife, mother, attorney, interior decorator, strategic leader and teacher. She runs a website called Pure Path Essential Oils, a naturopathic wellness company that promotes healthy living and healing through the use of essential oils and sustainable living.