In my 30 years in medicine, there’s one topic that I wish we knew more about: the relationship between stress and blood pressure. There is a link between the two, but there is little science to explain how exactly stress affects blood pressure.
The one thing we do know is chronic stress, which is stress that doesn’t go away over time, can have a negative impact on your health and can be a symptom of high blood pressure.
Does chronic stress cause high blood pressure?
Stress is a biological response to something happening to you. There are both good and bad types of stress. Good stress happens when the body says, yeah, this is challenging; now, let’s work with it.
Intense situations like looking for a job, getting fired, or a hectic living or working environment all play a role. Bad stress can be much more difficult to overcome and can turn into long-term stress.
However, not all stress is linked to high blood pressure. It’s when stressors become chronic, as in a daily or weekly occurrence, that they pose a risk. High blood pressure can be a symptom of chronic stressors and an indication that a change in lifestyle or routines is needed. In short, it’s chronic stress that we want to keep an eye out for and try to reduce.
The good news is there are simple actions you can take to help cope with stress.
Can your mind help lower stress?
Yes, the way you think can affect how you deal with stress and how long stress lasts. Practicing a few simple mind exercises can help reduce the effects of chronic stress, which may help lower your chances of developing high blood pressure.
Here are four ways you can use your mind to deal with stress:
When something stressful happens, it can be easy to fixate on it and replay events in your mind. Being able to calm your mind is like hitting the mental reset button. How to do this can be different for everyone, so you’ll need to find what works for you by trying different things.
Going for a drive in the evening, for example, or going for a long walk may help you clear your mind and feel calmer. For some men, relaxation can mean mowing the lawn or getting out in nature.
This MindFit Toolkit includes MindFit Minutes, which are short recordings that can help relax a busy mind. See if they work for you.
Switching from a glass-half-empty to a glass-half-full person takes time, but the shift towards thinking more positively can benefit your stress levels as well as how you perceive the environment around you.
Take a cue from a Canadian Men’s Heath Foundation National Champion who uses the written word to help empower him. Hockey Night in Canada’s Kelly Hrudey uses index cards to feel more positive and relaxed. He writes uplifting personal messages on a card, carries them around with him and looks at them whenever needed.
This may seem like a stretch, but acceptance can help reduce stress. Accepting the things in life that you can’t change or control, like a global pandemic, for example, can help you feel less stressed. A pandemic may be outside of your control but how you interact with the people you care about or what you choose to value is within your control. And, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on the things that are actually important to you.
When you’re feeling stressed, stepping away from the situation and taking a few minutes to breathe deeply can help shift your body from stress mode to relaxed mode.
Try breathing from your diaphragm. Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 7 and exhale to the count of 5. Your belly (not your chest) should rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. Try it for 1 minute and see how you feel.
So, what is healthy blood pressure?
Blood pressure measures the force your heart uses to pump blood around your body. A healthy range is around 120-over-70 for an average man. Below this range is considered low. We often talk about high blood pressure, but low blood pressure also has associated issues like dizziness, fatigue and nausea.
High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and vision loss if left undetected and uncontrolled. Also, research shows that people of South Asian descent are at a greater risk of developing blood pressure-related conditions than the general population.
Can a stressful job cause high blood pressure?
Some men wonder, “Can a stressful job cause high blood pressure?” The cause of a specific type of high blood pressure called essential hypertension is unknown. But a stressful job can contribute to the chronic stress we want to avoid.
If you have a demanding job, it’s even more important to follow these tips that can help reduce your stress:
Get enough sleep
Something as simple as going to bed at the same time every night can help you get the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended to stay healthy.
Drink alcohol in moderation
Reducing how much alcohol you consume in a week can have a big impact. Aim for less than 15 drinks per week and no more than 3 per day with at least 2 booze-free days. Use this handy guide to see what “a drink” means.
Spend time with friends and loved ones
Healthy relationships can help you reduce stress, improve your mood, and live longer. Take a look at this blog about making connections that last: Find Your Wolf Pack and Conquer Loneliness.
What are the signs of high blood pressure?
It can be almost impossible to know whether you have high blood pressure without testing it.
High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because you may have it, and you don’t know until something happens. Six million Canadian adults have high blood pressure, and 17% of those people don’t know they have it.
Here are some signs you might have high blood pressure and that it’s time for a check-up:
- Tiredness – Reduced energy and fatigue can be a warning sign
- Malaise – Feeling weak, uncomfortable, or generally unwell
- Headaches – The most common symptom of high blood pressure is chronic headaches
Family history can be a warning sign. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop high blood pressure if your dad has it. Still, it’s something to be aware of.
As mentioned, you likely won’t know if you have high or low blood pressure unless you measure it. Lucky for us, measuring your blood pressure is easy, and you can do it at home.
How to measure your blood pressure?
You can measure your blood pressure at home, but to make sure you do it properly, follow these two simple tips:
- Be relaxed and calm: Sit comfortably and don’t drink anything caffeinated 30 minutes beforehand.
- Take the average of two or three readings: Add up the total of three readings and divide the number by three to get the average, or take at least two readings and divide that number by two. Make sure you wait for a minute or so between readings and record them.
For more guidelines on how to check your blood pressure, watch this 2-minute video.
If you check your blood pressure and the numbers are normal, you’ll only need to check it once a year or so. But if your numbers are higher, you’ll have to check them more often.
Remember that good health doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Find out about making easy changes to your eating habits (with a South Asian twist) in this blog post: Eat Your Way to Good Health.
What are some ways that you manage stress and blood pressure? Let us know in the comments below.