How Stress Affects Blood Pressure

Physiological reactions to help us survive perceived dangers have become a danger in themselves
November 6, 2020 Updated: November 6, 2020

If you’re watching the news these days, I bet you’re feeling stressed. You may feel it even more if you’re on social media. For some, leaving home can send stress levels skyrocketing.

And it can all be boosting your blood pressure, too.

Stress can affect blood pressure in several ways. One acute effect is vasocontraction. Blood vessels tighten up to concentrate blood in the core of the body. This effect is caused by the release of stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol, which also increase your heart rate.

This “fight or flight” response will fade as the stressful period passes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the woods. There is data to suggest that chronic stress may have a long-term effect on blood pressure.

Chronic psychological stress may play a role in hypertension. A 2013 study found that stress resulting from work, marriage, social isolation, money troubles, racial discrimination, and more may contribute to lasting high blood pressure.

Living under continued stress may evoke a long-term sympathetic nervous system response, potentially making it an independent risk factor for high blood pressure.

However, more work is required to determine if and how long-term stress exposure elicits biological changes to promote hypertension.

Chronic stress may lead to behavioral changes that influence blood pressure. Coping mechanisms like drinking, smoking, eating, and staying in bed can contribute to high blood pressure. These behaviors are associated with inflammation and arterial stiffness.

Finding ways to treat stress might play a major role in long-term heart health. Thankfully, exercise can reduce both stress and blood pressure.

But that won’t remove you from stressful situations. For some, stress-relief may require less time with television or social media. As an alternative, pick up a book that allows you to escape from the constant media barrage.

If you don’t like reading, find another productive activity that brings joy.

Consider if you really need to learn everything as it’s happening. The reality is that you don’t. The news of the day will be there tomorrow morning, so consider blocking off time each day for “news time” before leaving it alone.

Unfortunately, for some, stress relief will not be as simple as flicking a switch. If you fall into this category, consider looking into mindfulness or other forms of meditation. A hobby could help. You might also need to consider making bigger changes, such as seeking new employment or leaving a relationship.

Stress can put your heart at risk. Try finding ways to limit stress to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Mohan Garikiparithi holds a degree in medicine from Osmania University (University of Health Sciences). He practiced clinical medicine for over a decade. During a three-year communications program in Germany, he developed an interest in German medicine (homeopathy) and other alternative systems of medicine. This article was originally published on Bel Marra Health.