Stress & High Blood Pressure

Stress & High Blood Pressure (And 3 Tips to Lower Your BP)

Life is busy.

Early morning meetings, constant emails, making deadlines, and the blurred lines between work and home life makes it difficult to find “balance” in your life. 

If you ask most people if they’re stressed, they say ‘no’. But, if ask most people if they’re busy, they’ll definitely say ‘yes (and probably a long explanation!).

What’s the take home message; if you’re busy, your stress levels will likely be high.

Stress isn’t a bad thing. It makes you productive at work, in the gym, and at home. But too much stress, or inability to cope with stress, can seriously compromise your health.

How do you know if you’re too stressed or if your “busy” life is negatively impacting your health?

Your blood pressure can be a good marker.

What Does My Blood Pressure Mean?

The American Heart Association’s latest statistics show over 100 million Americans has high blood pressure, the equivalent of approximately one out of every three people.(1)

A normal blood pressure reading is generally considered to be 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), although this will vary slightly depending on ethnicity, age, sex, etc.

The top ‘systolic’ number reflects the pressure in your arteries when the heart pumps, while the bottom ‘diastolic’ number the pressure in your arteries between heart beats.

If you’re constantly on the run, eat a diet higher in processed food, struggle to get enough sleep, drink too much alcohol or coffee, your blood pressure may be a little high.

If your blood pressure goes up between 130-139mmHg, you’re classified as having Stage I hypertension.

Many people don’t even realize they might be in this category, and even at this early stage, it’s time to start thinking about making changes to your diet, activity level and lifestyle.

If your blood pressure goes up beyond 140mmHg (or the bottom diastolic number above 90mmHg) you’re classified as having Stage II hypertension. At this level, you definitely need to make some significant changes and your doctor may want you to start a medication.

Why Is High Blood Pressure A Problem?

A healthy body naturally has strong and supple arteries. High blood pressure stiffens and hardens your arteries, increasing the likelihood of blockages. This is bad news for your long-term health.

High blood pressure occurs when the blood pumping through your arteries encounters more resistance, most often as a result of the narrowing of your arteries. Atherosclerosis is the formation of plaques in your arterial wall and the most common cause of the narrowing of your arteries (and thus higher blood pressure).  

Atherosclerosis occurs in response to poor dietary choices, weight gain, inactivity and general poor health status. The resultant high blood pressure puts you at much greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

The biggest danger with chronically high blood pressure is that there are very few symptoms.

For this reason, hypertension is a called “silent” condition, because you don’t notice it until it’s more serious.

The most prominent signs and symptoms when your blood pressure is very high include some of the following;

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nosebleeds
  • Chest pain
  • Visual changes
  • Blood in your urine

This is why it’s important to get your blood pressure check regularly. Just to see where you stand. Are you in the optimal range? Do you need to make few changes to your diet, exercise and lifestyle regime? Or is it time for serious talk with your doctor? Test don’t guess. 

Solutions for High Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure is a little high, it’s a sign your body is under stress and not running on all cylinders.

What can you do about it? The good news is like most chronic conditions the best solutions are diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

The following are three tips to lower your blood pressure (and improve stress response).

#1 Weight Loss

If you’re overweight or carrying excess bodyfat around your mid-section, then weight loss should be your top priority. Weight loss and better blood sugar control go hand in hand, and both improve blood pressure.(2,3,4)

A great place to start is breakfast. Unfortunately, breakfast is a meal where processed food consumption – cereals, muffins, pastries, etc. – is commonplace. Try reducing your intake of starchy carbohydrates – like breads, cereals, muffins, etc. – and replace them with more protein, healthy fats and high-fiber fruits. 

For example, 2-3 eggs with half an avocado and a cup of raspberries is a great way to start the day and keep your blood sugar levels under control.

#2 More Movement

If you want to keep your arteries strong and supple, keeping your movement levels up is fundamental. Traditionally, aerobic exercise is thought to be best for blood pressure, however new research shows resistance training is also highly effective. 

If you’re unfit (or deconditioned in ‘trainer-speak’), then start by adding a 20-30-minute fast walk or light jog to your regime. Build up to 3-5 sessions per week.

It will not only improve your blood pressure, it will also help to relax your nervous system and therefore improve your ability to cope with stress.(5)

The more you can incorporate this into your daily routine – first thing upon rising, at lunch with a colleague, or after work with a friend or family – the greater the likelihood you’ll stick with it in the long-term.

#3 Learn to Breathe

Meditation can be an inspiring and motivating word for some people, while for others it’s a turn off. Nevertheless, learning how to ‘breathe better’ is crucial to calming your nervous system and thereby improving your blood pressure.(6)

You might not realize it, but if you’re running between meetings and appointments all week, and not getting enough total sleep time, your sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ nervous system will be stuck in overdrive. 

While this isn’t a problem in the short-term, in the long run it leads to higher stress levels, higher blood pressure and poorer productivity.

Breathwork (or meditation) is an evidence-based strategy for improving blood pressure. Try this exercise;

  • Lie on your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor
  • Place a book over your belly
  • Inhale and expand your belly (so the book moves up toward the ceiling)
  • Exhale and draw your belly button inward (toward the floor)
  • With eyes closed, breathe in this manner for 5-10 minutes.

This will start to teach you how to control your nervous system via your breath.

To Sum Up

Higher blood pressure readings are an early warning sign – a little smoke – to highlight you need to support your body and increase your resiliency.

Constant connectivity is wonderful, but it can also place a heavy toll on your health.

Diet, exercise and lifestyle factors are the foundations of healthy blood pressure and keeping you uber productive at work and play.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS