When it comes to cardiovascular health, eating low-fat, nutrient-rich food and getting plenty of physical activity are effective ways to promote wellness, including normal blood pressure. Still, even if you do these things but live with unchecked stress, you may develop high blood pressure (hypertension).
“Something that is perceived as stressful triggers a flood of hormones that boost the body’s mechanisms to supply extra blood to the muscles and vital organs. Increased blood pressure is part of this mechanism,” said Jacqueline DuBose, MD, associate professor of Family Medicine at Augusta University. “We think that the reactivation of this system through chronic exposure to stressful situations and failure to return to a restful state leads to an exaggerated response, which is hypertension.”
When you have chronic, untreated high blood pressure, every system in your body suffers. Specifically, high blood pressure damages the arteries that supply blood to your brain, heart and kidneys. The condition can also compromise the flow of blood to your lower body.
If you have high blood pressure, you may experience a variety of symptoms, including:
- Blurry vision
- Chronic fatigue
- Leg pain and weakness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Shortness of breath
However, these symptoms typically appear only when high blood pressure has reached a life-threatening stage. Because high blood pressure often has no symptoms in its earlier stages, it is known as “the silent killer.” Nearly 108 million adults in the United States have hypertension, and only 11 million know that they have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Managing your stress through lifestyle changes is an important step to help reduce your risk of stress-induced high blood pressure. If you are emotionally overwhelmed or taxed for time on a regular basis, the following best practices may help:
- Engage in mindfulness. Activities like meditation or prayer may help you let go of stress.
- Exercise more often. Physical activity can lower your stress hormones and increase feel-good endorphins. As a result, you may enjoy more energy, less pain and more restorative sleep.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Focusing on the positive can facilitate a spirit of calmness.
- Learn to say no. Instead of overcommitting yourself, prioritize the activities and responsibilities that are most important to you.
“Stress is a part of everyday life, and that has never been truer than during this past year when everyday life changed dramatically for us,” Dr. DuBose said. “If you are experiencing stress, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to properly manage it and live a healthier life.”