Stress and blood pressure are more connected than you may think. Increased stress levels contribute to an increase in blood pressure, which can have a whole host of undesirable medical consequences. (The Mayo Clinic, 2019). Everyone experiences stress. Whether it’s minor, such as a problem at work or forgetting your keys, or major, such as a life-threatening illness, stress has at least some degree of impact on our physiological well-being. That’s why it is important to decrease stress, which will in turn improve physical health — and blood pressure.
In this article, we will discuss the relationship between stress and blood pressure, including what happens when blood pressure is too high. We’ll also discuss ways to relieve stress.
Stress and Blood Pressure
When stressed, our body reacts in a flight or fight mode and produces hormones called catecholamines (The Mayo Clinic, 2019). These hormones increase blood pressure, make our heart beat faster and cause constriction and narrowing of blood vessels (The Mayo Clinic, 2019). For people undergoing normal amounts of stress, this reaction would be temporary. However, in a chronically stressful environment increased hormone levels can damage arteries, potentially causing heart disease (The Mayo Clinic, 2019).
Additionally, many of us react to stress in ways that raise our blood pressure. For example, if we drink, smoke, or reach for ‘junk food’ or “comfort food”, this can cause an increase in blood pressure (The Mayo Clinic, 2019). That, combined with all the other physical effects from stress, is a recipe for disaster.
Effects of High Blood Pressure
Your heart and brain are the organs most at risk for damage from high blood pressure, but your kidneys are also (CDC, 2014). When blood pressure is elevated, arteries get damaged causing an inflammatory response and cholesterol gets deposited in the blood vessel walls. The result decreases the flow of oxygen and blood to the heart and can trigger the formation of blood clots in the blood vessels, leading to heart disease (CDC, 2014). This decreased flow can cause angina (chest pain). When an artery becomes totally occluded (blocked), one part of the heart actually dies, which is a heart attack. (CDC, 2014). Heart failure can ensue, which is when the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen and nutrients to other vital organs.
Likewise, sustained high blood pressure can lead to progressive vascular disease in the blood vessels of the brain and severe uncontrolled hypertension can cause a blood vessel to burst, (CDC, 2014). Either occurance can lead to a stroke (CDC, 2014). A stroke is when part of the brain dies. Strokes can lead to impaired speech, cognitive function, movement, and other physical impairments that can be permanent (CDC, 2014). Strokes can even cause death (CDC, 2014). Lastly, your kidneys are at risk, too. 20% of adults with high blood pressure also have chronic kidney disease (CDC, 2014).
Environmental Ways to Decrease Stress
With all of the ill-effects listed above, it’s clear to want to decrease stress as much as possible and as soon as possible. There are ways that we can reduce stress. We can use a journal to identify and track what stresses us (APA, 2018). Once we are in touch with our triggers, we will better be able to identify patterns that bring about stress so that we can avoid or modify how we deal with these situations going forward. (APA, 2018).
Consider trying meditation instead of reaching for alcohol or cigarettes or comfort food. (APA, 2018). While this won’t give you the instant gratification that binge eating or having an alcoholic beverage or a smoke will, in the long run, it is a much healthier alternative. The more you practice meditation, the better you will become at it. The development of healthy responses is key (APA, 2018). We should also learn to establish boundaries; this is particularly important if you are a workaholic. Take time for yourself and establish a period where you will not be doing any work (APA, 2018). Lastly, don’t be afraid to talk to a licensed therapist about what you’re going through (APA, 2018).
Stress isn’t permanent – nothing is, however a little stress can be a good thing. It can help you meet deadlines more promptly, and it can apply pressure to your life where you need extra motivation and focus. However, more than that is dangerous, and can cause high blood pressure. Decreasing your stress level is likely to decrease your blood pressure, and you should take advantage of stress-relief supplements and environmental techniques to help you reduce stress. Consult your CardioMender, MD practitioner for recommendations that best suit you.
To understand more about stress, read our blog on How to Rise Above a Stressful Daily Life.
APA. (2018, 10). Coping with Stress at Work . Retrieved from American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress
care/of. (2019). Live your best life: how vitamins and supplements reduce stress. Retrieved from care/of: https://takecareof.com/articles/best-vitamins-supplements-for-stress-and-anxiety
CDC. (2014, 07 07). Effects of High Blood Pressure. Retrieved from CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/effects.htm
The Mayo Clinic. (2019, 01 09). Stress and high blood pressure: What’s the connection? Retrieved from Mayo Clinic : https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/stress-and-high-blood-pressure/art-20044190