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Stress and High Blood Pressure

What’s the link?

Exhausted young businessmanIn today’s fast-paced world filled with expectations in the workplace and even from raising a family, it is common to hear people admitting they feel stress. Some may even claim that stress has cost them their health by increasing their blood pressure. Does stress really cause high blood pressure, or is it just a myth?

Looking into the Link

The link between stress and long-term high blood pressure, if there is one, is challenging to prove. There is no study able to verify this link as too many factors are involved. In addition, it is difficult to quantify stress.

Physiologically, the body produces a surge of hormones when under stressful conditions. This is also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response, to help us handle such situations by confronting or fleeing. These hormones temporarily increase blood pressure by causing the heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to narrow. Once the stressor disappears, blood pressure returns to normal. However, stress that occurs often enough can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the heart and kidneys, similar to long-term high blood pressure.

Although stress is not a confirmed risk factor for high blood pressure or heart disease, it is associated with high blood pressure due to its direct link with stress-related behaviour such as overeating, alcohol consumption, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and poor sleeping habits. These can result in obesity and short-term stress-related spike in blood pressure. Added up over time, these may increase the risk of developing long-term high blood pressure.

On top of that, other health conditions related to stress such as anxiety, depression and isolation may cause similar self-destructive behaviour such as smoking, drinking, drug abuse and neglecting to take medications, which worsens control of blood pressure.

Stress Strategies

Even though stress might not be directly related to blood pressure, using strategies to manage stress can improve other health conditions and change behaviour, subsequently lowering blood pressure. Here are some simple principles for stress management:

  • Recognise and alter expectations. Learn to say “no” and don’t promise beyond your capabilities. Ensure that there is enough time to get things done before promising. Time management is essential for reducing stress. Re-evaluate priorities, and live within manageable limits.
  • Recognise where you have control. Learn to accept things that can’t be changed; be innovative when handling them, especially psychologically and emotionally. Identify negative thinking which contributes to stress, and think positive instead.
  • Recognise you need to manage your mood. Regular exercise is a natural stress buster. It also reduces blood pressure by as much as 5 – 10 mmHg. Playing sports with a group of friends helps you to unwind, and friends can be a source of support. Learn calming techniques such as controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, to train the mind and body to become more relaxed. These techniques require practice but can be helpful with regular use. Take 15 – 20 minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe deeply and picture a peaceful image. Meditation helps a lot. Limit alcohol, and don’t smoke.
  • Recognise gratitude and joy. Find joy in family and friends. Make space to spend time together. Know what brings pleasure and find ways to enjoy the experiences. Practise gratitude – expressing gratitude to others can make you feel good. Change how you respond to difficult situations; instead of the negatives, focus on the positive aspects.
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Dr Gilbert Yeo Tian Seng is Assistant Medical Director at Parkway Shenton, Singapore. He is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.
Posted by ezyhealth on Mar 31 2015. Filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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