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Why stress should be a key consideration in dealing with high blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a very prevalent health condition these days. Often undetected in the early stages due to a lack of noticeable symptoms, it can lead to a number of serious complications such as heart attack and stroke, if left untreated. This is because the increased force of blood pushing through your blood vessels puts extra pressure on organs such as the heart, eyes and brain.

There are many different causes that can lead to high blood pressure, some of which are within our control and others that are outside of it. We often focus on diet and exercise as key issues, and while this is true, the impact of stress is also critical. Here’s why:

Risk factors of high blood pressure

Before turning to stress specifically, it’s worth giving an overview of the main causes and risk factors for hypertension. This is a condition that generally develops over the course of several years rather than in an instant, so having your blood pressure checked regularly is crucial. This is particularly true if you are:

  • Over 65 years old
  • Overweight or obese
  • Drink a lot of alcohol
  • Have a diet high in salt
  • Smoke
  • Are physically inactive
  • Don’t get much sleep
  • Experience high levels of stress
  • Have a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure
  • Suffer from certain other medical conditions such as thyroid disorders and chronic kidney disease

The importance of stress in high blood pressure management

If you have been diagnosed with hypertension or simply want to reduce your chances of developing the condition, there are lots of actions you can take. An effective high blood pressure management plan should of course include a healthy diet and regular exercise, but to have the greatest impact it must also focus on stress.

Reducing stress is a strategy that is often overlooked, and yet can make a big difference. This is because the release of stress hormones can result in a ‘fight or flight’ response, which increases heart rate and constricts blood vessels – resulting in higher blood pressure. In the short term this has no long-term negative side effects, however chronic stress can be damaging. On top of which, stress can make us more likely to indulge in harmful activities such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating unhealthy foods. Finally, high levels of stress can cause insomnia or disturbed sleep, which can also have a damaging impact on our mental and physical health.

Unfortunately, it’s generally not possible to completely eliminate stress from our lives. However, what we can do is take actions to effectively mitigate the impacts of the stress we do experience. For example, you could try:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Adult coloring books
  • Journaling
  • Walking in the woods or along the beach to get fresh air and sunlight
  • Taking up a creative hobby
  • Getting a pet (as long as you have the time, space and dedication to care for an animal)
  • Spending quality time with friends and family
  • Keeping a gratitude journal
  • Taking a long hot bath
  • Treating yourself to a spa day
  • Curling up with a good book or film
  • Avoiding social media
  • Yoga or other forms of gentle exercise