Stressful situations can cause your blood pressure to spike temporarily. But, does it cause long-term effects on your health – specifically, blood pressure?
Stress is your body’s response to change, releasing adrenaline (that causes your heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure rise) to help you cope with the situation. While the link between stress and heart disease is unclear, it is linked with high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease.
Not all stress is bad, though. Public speaking or watching the last five minutes of a tie-breaking game can be stressful – but can also be fun. The key is managing your stress properly. While exercising three times a week for 30 minutes can reduce your stress levels, there are other activities you can do to help lower your blood pressure.
Today, we’ll discuss the correlation between stress and blood pressure and how you can manage it effectively.
(Download and learn 10 Ways to Lower Your Risk of a Second Heart Attack)
Stress vs. Anxiety
In addition to the emotional discomfort we feel in stressful situations, the body reacts to stress by releasing hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into the bloodstream. These hormones make up the “fight or flight” response and cause your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to constrict in order to direct more blood to the core instead of the extremities.
The combination of your heart rate increasing and your blood vessels constricting causes a spike in blood pressure – but only temporarily. When the stress reaction passes, your blood pressure will return to its previous state. This is known as situational stress and its effects are generally short-lived and disappear when you’re removed from the stressful event.
“Fight or flight” is a response humans experience when faced with an imminent threat we can handle by confronting or fleeting. But, let’s be honest. Today’s world contains a vast number of stressful events and environments we’re unable to handle with those options. A more constant form of stress known as “chronic stress” causes the body to kick into high gear for days or weeks at a time.
Stress and anxiety are terms often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. Stress is a lifestyle factor and a natural response to change. Though it can make your heart pump faster and your palms sweat, it’s typically short-lived and can even be a positive experience.
For example, stress can help you work through a tight deadline or the last five minutes of a game. However, if left unmanaged, stress can lead to insomnia, poor concentration or impairment. In a nutshell, stress is your body’s response to a threat in any given situation.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is different. It’s a reaction to stress, characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety or fear strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. Rather than feeling anxious in response to actual danger, someone struggling with anxiety will experience the same symptoms in situations they perceive are dangerous (i.e. meeting new people or taking public transportation.)
Unlike stress, anxiety hangs around for the long haul and can cause impairments in social, occupational and other functioning.
How Stress Affects Blood Pressure
Let’s get back to stress, though. While stress alone may not cause long-term high blood pressure, reacting to stress in unhealthy ways can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
Behaviors such as smoking, excessive alcohol and an unhealthy diet are linked to high blood pressure. And, heart disease can also be linked to health conditions related to stress such as anxiety, depression and isolation.
Stress can cause dramatic spikes in blood pressure. But, when the stress goes away, your blood pressure should return to normal. However, frequent spikes can damage your blood vessels, heart and kidneys similar to that of long-term high blood pressure. This is why management is so crucial.
Lowering Stress With Healthy Habits
Reducing your stress levels may not directly lower your blood pressure over the long-term. However, several management techniques can lead to healthy behavior changes – including those that reduce your blood pressure. Here are some highlights from the American Heart Association on managing stress and living a more relaxed life:
- Use positive self-talking, turning negative thoughts into positive ones.
- Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe deeply and relax.
- Engage in regular physical activity like walking, biking or swimming.
- Avoid things that are upsetting and have a plan for coping with those situations.
- Learn to say “no” and don’t overpromise.
- Give up bad habits like smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine.
- Slow down and give yourself enough time to get things done.
- Try to get six to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Use a planner to break down your days into digestible tasks.
The goal of stress management and lowering blood pressure is to develop a process that works best for you. Be open-minded and willing to try techniques. Once you choose your strategies and take action, you’ll start seeing the benefits. For more information on high blood pressure or to schedule a health scan to learn your risk of heart disease, reach out to us today at (918) 879-6161.
Make Prevention Your Priority
According to the American Heart Association, roughly 20 percent of patients have a second heart attack within five years of the first. Heart disease is scary, but you can get the answers to your questions and learn how to reduce your risk with this free checklist.
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