Overdue assignments. Long work shifts. Upcoming meetings. These are just a few examples of super stressful situations that most of us encounter on a daily basis. Stress is normal, and sometimes good, because it can help us focus on the things that matter most.
However, there are times when it just feels like nothing is going right. It feels like there’s no end in sight, and it’s overwhelming to take on the day. Stress is part of life, but it doesn’t make it any less exhausting.
Stress only becomes a big problem when it’s chronic or persistent. In these cases, you might notice physical changes to your health.
We know that stress can make us feel nervous, increase our heart rate, and make us extra fatigued. But can it even lead to high blood pressure?
What Is Stress?
If you ever feel weird or abnormal because of stress, know that a little stress is totally normal. The human body is designed to experience stress, feel stress, and react to it accordingly. It’s a feeling of emotional and physical tension that can come from any event that makes you feel angry, nervous, scared, or frustrated.
In short bursts, it can be a positive thing. A small jolt of stress might be able to focus your attention on that pending essay, or it might help orient your perspective towards the most important tasks at hand. However, when stress becomes chronic, it can cause physiological and mental discomfort.
If feelings of stress are persistent and unshaking, it might be evidence of an anxiety disorder. This is the most common mental health condition marked by persistent anxious feelings and sensations of stress.
Chances are, if you’re experiencing a physical response to stress that lasts for more than an hour more days than not for several months, you might have an anxiety disorder.
Stress and Increased Blood Pressure
It’s important to remember that increased blood pressure can stem from a number of things. It might be the result of genetics, poor diet, or other diseases within the body. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure and feel like something is wrong, it is never a bad thing to talk to a doctor.
As far as the link between stress and blood pressure, the short answer is that yes, stress can cause high blood pressure. However, the full answer is a bit more complicated than just that.
Your body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, changes in vision, and your ability to focus. That system has a stress reaction called the fight or flight response which is an innate function that prepares the body to either flee a dangerous situation or fight the danger head-on. It’s entirely involuntary, so your body does all the hard work for you.
Someone with chronic stress may experience persistent activation of this stress response. Since it alters the body’s chemistry and exerts more energy than a body at rest, this can have significant wear and tear on the body.
One of the symptoms of this response is an increase in blood pressure. In a stressful situation, the body’s heart rate increases to prepare for fighting or fleeing. When this happens, blood pressure rises as well. What this means is that stress leads to high blood pressure during a time when that emotion is felt. However, it is not yet clear if chronic stress can lead to long term high blood pressure even when feelings of anxiety are no longer apparent.
With that said, if you’re always under stress, you might often experience high blood pressure. Other symptoms of stress include:
- Aches and pains.
- Increased heart rate and/ or chest pain.
- Muscle and jaw tension.
- Panic attacks.
- Feelings of sadness or depression.
That’s all pretty somber stuff, but the good news is that you’re not alone. People deal with stressful situations every single day, and feeling the physical effects of them is nothing to be ashamed of!
There are plenty of ways to treat and prevent stress that are highly successful.
Why is High Blood Pressure So Bad?
Having high blood pressure is reasonable every now and then, especially during short bursts of stress. But continually feeling anxious and having persistent high blood pressure can lead to some unwanted complications.
High blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Not to mention, if the blood vessels become weakened or deformed, it can cause organs to function improperly.
It’s important to remember that these changes occur after long-term and continued high blood pressure that goes untreated. You probably won’t experience these things because of occasional stress. However, it’s something to watch out for if you notice that anxiety gets the best of you more often than not.
Coping With Stress
Engaging in activities to cope with your stress will help lower your blood pressure in the moment. And on top of that, they can improve your health in other ways.
Practice Deep Breathing
Have you ever felt so stressed that you forget to breathe? It happens to the best of us, but believe it or not, breathing is important!
The next time you feel stress take over, get yourself into a quiet, calm room. Get comfortable and close your eyes, tuning out the world for just a few moments. Take a nice, deep breath in through your nose for about 10 seconds. After that, gently exhale through the mouth. Try to make that last about 10 seconds too. Keep repeating this until you can gain a sense of normalcy again.
Deep breathing techniques aren’t just great for times of stress. Incorporate deep breathing into a nightly routine so that you can unwind before bed for a solid night’s rest.
Yoga and Meditation
You can also combine breathing exercises with the art of yoga or meditation. These practices are designed to tune into your inner self and gain a new perspective on stressful situations. There’s a reason they’re so popular for reducing feelings of stress.
There are many different types of yoga, but you might like “Hatha” the most, especially if you’re a beginner. This has a slow, even pace with easier movements. It’s tailored towards relaxation, rather than building muscle mass or increasing flexibility.
The thing about yoga and meditation is that they are entirely individualized, so do whatever works best for you! Regardless, the stretches that are incorporated into each other will have benefits outside of just lowering blood pressure.
The reason that stress and anxiety can have such a negative effect on your well being is because the body isn’t meant to sustain elevations in heart rate and blood pressure for sustained periods. However, you can ease your body into using this energy for good by engaging in exercise.
You can go for a bike ride or a run, but something as simple as a brisk walk can naturally even out your heart rate. This may allow it to drop to a normal level upon completion. Plus, exercise will distract you from the task at hand, so it will give you a more peaceful headspace.
It might sound cliche, but thinking positively can help reduce your stress, therefore keeping your blood pressure in line. When stress consumes you, it can lead to a never-ending cycle of intrusive thoughts. But when you focus on the good, you might be able to forget about the little things that got you so worked up in the first place.
Before going to sleep at night, look back at your day and think about everything that you accomplished, no matter how small. This will help you get a peaceful night’s sleep and clear your head so that you can start fresh when the sun comes up in the morning.
Stress is a normal part of life, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. During stress, the body’s fight or flight response elicits a number of physiological reactions, including increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
Though there is no evidence to suggest that chronic stress will lead to long term increased blood pressure, high blood pressure will occur during periods of stress. If these occur often, it might lead to more severe problems.
Luckily, stress can be managed. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, exercise, and positive thinking are just a few ways to cope with one of nature’s least comfortable emotions.
Stress isn’t the greatest feeling on earth, but everytime you overcome a period of mental and emotional strain, you’ve accomplished something amazing. And that is definitely a reason to smile.
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