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How Stress Affects Your Blood Pressure

Whether it’s a major traffic jam, an overtired toddler, or an extra-long to-do list, chances are you’re familiar with the physical effects of stress. Your muscles tense, your teeth clench, your breathing changes, and your blood feels as though it’s racing through your veins.

Stressful situations may be a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let your blood pressure spike. When short-term stress overwhelms your body, you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, hypertension, or another chronic condition.

Fortunately, keeping your stress levels to a minimum and finding effective ways to deal with unavoidable stressors can go a long way in helping you prevent unhealthy blood pressure spikes that could lead to bigger problems. Read on as Dr. Faride Ramos, MD, a functional medicine physician in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, offers an overview of what you should know.

Blood pressure basics

The term “blood pressure” refers to the amount of force your blood flow exerts against the walls of your arteries; both when your heart beats (systolic pressure) and when it rests between beats (diastolic pressure).

Your blood pressure reading measures both of these numbers, with systolic pressure coming before diastolic pressure. Blood pressure that falls at or below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) is considered normal, or healthy.

Although stress-induced spikes in blood pressure are usually short-lived and self-correcting, ongoing stress can push your blood pressure levels up and keep them elevated long enough to contribute to the development of chronic hypertension.

Stage one hypertension occurs when your systolic pressure consistently reaches 130-139 mm Hg, or when your diastolic pressure regularly falls between 80-89 mm Hg. Stage two hypertension means your blood pressure consistently measures 140/90 mm Hg or higher.

The physical effects of stress 

Acute stress, brought on by a momentary situation, can cause a chain reaction of physiological events that impact your entire body. This can include your cardiovascular system.

The neurotransmitters in your stressed-out brain relay impulses to your sympathetic nervous system that cause your muscles to contract and increase your rate of respiration. At the same time, your body releases adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones that make your heart beat faster, cause your blood vessels to contract, and drive your blood pressure up.

Normal levels of cortisol also are released when you wake up in the morning or exercise. But when your body senses stress, your adrenal glands make and releases cortisol into your bloodstream. In your bloodstream, the cortisol triggers a flood of glucose that supplies an immediate energy source to your large muscles. It also prohibits insulin production so this glucose isn’t stored but is available for immediate use. Cortisol narrows the arteries, while another hormone, epinephrine, causes your heart rate to speed. This combo forces your blood to pump harder and faster as you confront and resolve the immediate threat.

Once an acute stress episode is over and your body’s intense fight-or-flight response subsides, your muscles relax, your breathing slows, your heart rate stabilizes, and your blood pressure returns to normal. 

When acute stress episodes happen frequently or become chronic, they can take a real toll on your body. On top of causing ongoing inflammation and perpetually elevated stress hormone levels, chronic stress can also contribute to the development of hypertension and substantially increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Left untreated, uncontrolled hypertension can cause major damage to your circulatory system, increasing your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, peripheral artery disease, and a variety of other serious health problems.

An ounce of prevention

High blood pressure is incredibly common, impacting one in three adults in the United States, or some 75 million Americans. A further one in three adults have prehypertension or consistently elevated blood pressure levels.

Hypertension is also remarkably insidious, in that it doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms. It won’t make you feel bad, limit your activity level, or impede your daily life. Having regular blood pressure checks is the only way to find out if you have it. You may need more frequent checks if you’re overweight, past middle age, or if the disease runs in your family.  

When it comes to preventing high blood pressure or keeping it under control, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This means adopting a heart-healthy, low-sodium diet that’s rich in potassium. Achieving a healthy body weight and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, can also be helpful.

It also means finding ways to reduce your stress levels and developing strategies to deal more effectively with life’s unavoidable curveballs.

Although everyone has their own way of managing acute stress and keeping chronic stress at bay, many people find they’re more prepared to handle stress when they get enough sleep and make time for regular physical activity.

Simplifying your schedule, giving yourself enough time to get things done, and learning how to keep a manageable to-do list can help you avoid the kind of time-related stressors that send your blood pressure soaring. 

To learn more about the benefits of effective stress management, call us today at 954-463-5271 or use our online booking tool.

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