Stress is a normal part of life. Relationships, finances, work, illness, and family stressors, to name a few, can become overwhelming, and over time, take a toll on our health.
One way stress impacts health is that it can cause spikes in blood pressure, and chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure.
High blood pressure or hypertension is known as “the silent killer” because there typically aren’t any warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it. This is alarming considering nearly half of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure.
“When you are stressed, your heart rate increases, a surge of cortisol and adrenaline is released, and your blood vessels narrow leading to an elevated blood pressure,” said Alanna Didier, DO, with Samaritan Family Medicine. “While your blood pressure may return to normal once your stress goes away, we don’t know the exact long-term effects of these temporary spikes in blood pressure.”
Left untreated, high blood pressure can put you at risk for other health problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Know Your NumbersGetting your blood pressure checked regularly and understanding what your numbers mean is important to managing your health.
Each time your heart beats, it pushes blood into your arteries, creating pressure. This is your blood pressure and is measured using two numbers.
“Systolic blood pressure is the first number in a blood pressure reading and it measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats,” said Didier. “Diastolic blood pressure is the second number and measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.”
Blood Pressure Guidance
|Blood Pressure Levels||Systolic mmHg||Diastolic mmHg|
|Normal||Less than 120||Less than 80|
|High / Hypertension||140 or higher||90 or higher|
Source: Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure
The importance of the numbers does vary based on other risk factors that you may have and your age. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, if you are middle aged and older, your systolic pressure gives a better diagnosis of high blood pressure. If you are younger, it is the diastolic blood pressure that is most important when identifying hypertension.“Blood pressure checks and screening for hypertension are part of annual wellness visits, so it is important that adults see their doctor yearly,” said Didier. “If you have a high blood pressure reading, your doctor may recommend you monitor your blood pressure at home and, depending on severity, work with you on a treatment plan.”
Managing Your Stress
While there are risk factors you cannot change – such as your family history or your age – managing stress is one step you can take to maintain good health and normal blood pressure levels.
“If are you feeling stressed, turning to unhealthy habits like eating salty foods, smoking, or drinking alcohol to help you relax may make you feel better in the moment, but it won’t help you or your health in the long term,” said Didier. “It’s important to find healthy strategies to cope that work for you to help minimize your stress.”
Some strategies that can help reduce stress include:
- Balance your priorities such as work and home.
- Maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Do things that help you relax.
- Make time for your favorite hobby.
- Connect with friends and loved ones.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Seek help and talk with a professional.
Along with reducing your stress, adopting a healthy lifestyle – maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, exercising at least 30 minutes a day and eating healthy with limited salt and alcohol intake – can go a long way to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.