Stress and high blood pressure: What’s the connection?

Did you know that increased levels of stress can cause your body to release certain hormones? These hormones can temporarily raise your blood pressure by narrowing the size of your arteries and causing your heart to beat faster. Though stress alone has not been linked to long-term blood pressure elevation, reacting to stress in unhealthy ways can increase risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks or stroke.

In order to keep your blood pressure stable and stress from having a negative impact on your health and wellbeing, take these steps daily.

Stay active

150 minutes a week of moderately intense exercise has been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease. On average, that is just 15-20 minutes a day. Moderate intensity exercise is anything that will increase your heart rate 50-60 percent from your normal resting rate. 

If you’re new to exercise, the key is to start slow. To build consistency, start with an activity you can do for 10-15 minutes at a time and work your way up from there. Try a variety of activities until you find something you enjoy, including: 

  • Gardening
  • Walking
  • Walking up and down stairs 
  • Biking or cycling
  • Swimming and water aerobics
  • Running
  • Jumping rope 
  • Playing a sport

In addition, exercise has been shown to boost your mood, reduce stress, improve sleep, boost brain function, and increase self-esteem and self-confidence!

Eat smart

Consuming a healthy diet comprised of foods rich in whole grains, fruits, leafy green vegetables, low fat dairy products and reduced amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats can lower your blood pressure on average by 11 points. Reducing the amount of salt in your diet to less than 2000mg (2grams) a day can also help. This type of diet is known as a Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. 

In addition, consuming more fish and reducing the amount of red meat and caffeine in your diet can help to lower your blood pressure as well. You do nothave to give up all foods that you enjoy but consider having at least 60-70 percent of your dietary intake come from these heart-healthy food groups.

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Related: 4 ways to fight stress and anxiety with food

Get some rest 

Getting adequate sleep is a very important part of your overall health. Did you know that lack of sleep can negatively affect your growth and stress hormones? It can also lower the ability of your immune system, reduce appetite, harm breathing, increase blood pressure and negatively affect your overall heart health. In fact, lack of sleep can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and infections. 

Sleep is the time that your body uses to repair your cells and release hormones that aid in your overall health. Lack of sleep has also been shown to have a negative effect on your mood, decision making and relationships. Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night has been shown to reduce these potentially harmful health risks.

Some habits that can improve your sleep health include:

  • Consistency — go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
  • Environment – make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Reduce stimuli before bedtime — consider removing electronic devices such as TVs, computers and smart phones from the bedroom or powering down all electronic devices an hour before bedtime.
  • Food and drink intake – avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
  • Get some exercise — being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

Think positively

We all struggle with stress from time to time. It’s a natural part of life. But if you begin to feel overwhelmed, try these coping methods to relax and de-stress.

  • Simplify your schedule. Take a few minutes to prioritize activities that are high yield and most important to you.
  • Take deep, calming breaths to relax.
  • Reduce or stop smoking.
  • Shift your perspective. Take a “glass half full” approach and look for solutions when dealing with problems.
  • Try yoga and meditation. Both can reduce stress and have been shown to have the potential lower your systolic blood pressure by 5 points.

Related: Finding gratitude in the middle of a pandemic

It’s important to make time to take care of yourself to ensure better overall physical, mental and emotional health.

Concerned about your high blood pressure? Talk to your doctor, or find a doctor near you today.

About the author

Ahmad Garrett-Price, MD
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Ahmad Garret-Price, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Direct Care DFW.

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Stress and high blood pressure: What’s the connection?