How Does Stress Impact Your Blood Pressure?
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Understanding your blood pressure and the impact it can have on your stress levels is the first step to taking control of your health. Our blood pressure (BP) is the pressure of blood as it circulates through the vessels in our body. This is different from your heart rate, which is the number of times your heart beats. The pressure relates to the amount of blood being pushed out and at what power. This pressure can be both low and high and fluctuate between the two and is given in two measurements, the systolic and the diastolic. The top number (systolic) is the pressure when the heart is pushing out the blood. The bottom number (diastolic) is the pressure between heart beats.
The effects of high and low BP
The blood pressure has an impact on your circulation and high and low pressure can damage your arterial health. High blood pressure can cause your arteries to become less elastic and so decreases the amount of blood and oxygen to the heart. If sustained over time, hypertension can lead to heart disease, angina, heart attack and maybe even heart failure. Low blood pressure, known as hypotension, causes a narrowing of the vessels and so you can experience dizziness, weakness, nausea and confusion.
In short, a healthy blood pressure is essential to the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular and circulatory system. With the right blood pressure, your body receives the oxygen-rich blood it requires to maintain good health.
While our ethnicity can impact on our susceptibility to disorders caused by blood pressure, it is more likely that our lifestyle is mostly responsible.
Stress and Blood Pressure
Our body is primed for survival. Therefore, when we are placed in a stressful situation, we experience a spike in our blood pressure. The additional blood to our muscles helps us to fight or run away from the perceived threat. In small doses, these spikes in blood pressure are a normal part of our physiology – the rise is temporary and when the threat removed, it returns to a good range.
However, imagine if you are constantly in a state of high stress. It might be that your job or homelife constantly put your body into a situation where it feels it needs to react physically to assist you in your survival. Equally, you could suffer from anxiety, where your thoughts are enough to increase your blood pressure due to feelings of being unsafe.
While there is no direct evidence that these factors are linked to high blood pressure, those who struggle with stress are more likely to suffer with cardiovascular and circulatory issues. It is likely that the constant stress of these spikes is going to have a detrimental impact on your physiology in the long run.
Reactions to stress
Though the scientific evidence to link long term BP issues and stress is slight, the behaviours we exhibited when stressed are directly connected. People who smoke, drink too much alcohol and eat unhealthy foods are susceptible to heart and vascular disease. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle, which happens to address issues of stress, also impact on your BP.
The level of coincidence between stress-reducing behaviours and the stabilisation of blood pressure is too high. For instance, simplifying your schedule and undertaking meditation or mindfulness are recommended for people with blood pressure issues. It is also a good idea to get plenty of sleep and to exercise regularly to burn off the stress hormones and allow you to keep your emotions in perspective. Each of these steps will also serve to maintain a healthy blood pressure because your lifestyle is best suited to your body.
In the short term
We should all have our blood pressure checked every five years or so. You can do this at your GPs or as part of an NHS health check. There are also home monitors you can buy. Regular checks can save your life, as the BP can often reveal underlying conditions that need addressing.
While a doctor might send you for tests and suggest changes to your lifestyle, there may be more immediate interventions required. It might be that your doctor feels you need to be prescribed medications too. It could be that you are offered ACE inhibitors, Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics, or beta blockers.
The message about stress
The easiest way to manage your stress is to seek balance. When our lives are out of balance, our physical wellbeing tends to follow. Doctors might see the spikes in blood pressure when under stress as temporary, constant stress will inevitably cause regular spikes that are going to impact on vascular health. Equally, when our lifestyle is unhealthy, we turn more to products that seem to help in the short term but have long term health ramifications – therefore – stopping smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and increase exercise are also going to help both your blood pressure and the evenness of your mood.