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Understanding the Link Between Stress and Hypertension

Are you living with hypertension? If so, you aren’t alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three, approximately 75 million, American adults has high blood pressure. People can develop hypertension for a number of reasons, including certain medical conditions and unhealthy behaviors, like smoking or consuming foods high in sodium. Sometimes high blood pressure develops for no identifiable reason. No matter the cause, chronic high blood pressure can lead to more serious medical conditions, such as heart disease and stroke. 

At Health First Primary Care, our care team led by Gisela Vargas, MD, offers comprehensive diagnostic and treatment services for hypertension designed to protect your health and prevent complications. Although medications can be useful in preventing and treating high blood pressure, one important strategy in treating hypertension is reducing or managing stress. Read on to learn more about the link between stress and hypertension. 

Stress and its impact on your body

The human body evolved to respond to stress with the “flight-or-fight response,” a surge of stress hormones released into the bloodstream when we face a stressful situation. These stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, increase our heart rate and cause blood vessels to constrict, forcing blood to the center of the body. The result? A temporary increase in blood pressure that returns to normal once the stressor is removed. 

The flight-or-fight response is useful in life-threatening situations that require a burst of speed or strength to fight off a threat or run to a safer location. But in today’s world, the majority of our stress doesn’t come from life-threatening scenarios. Instead, pressures from work, family, and the environment trigger stress hormones. And these stressors rarely leave us alone, leading to a condition known as chronic stress. Over time, the repeated excretion of the stress hormones can wreak havoc on your body as you stay in the flight-or-fight state longer than natural. 

How you react to stressors matters 

Scientists aren’t sure whether stress alone increases your risk for developing hypertension, but how you cope with it does impact your blood pressure. Reactions to stress develop from a variety of factors, like genetics, learned behavior, and life experience. Though some people seem to stay stress-free in even the most challenging situations, others have strong stress responses from seemingly low-stress scenarios. Regardless of how easily your flight-or-fight response is triggered, it’s important to learn how to cope with stress in ways that promote health. 

Many coping mechanisms for stress include unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, drinking excess alcohol, overeating, and problems with sleep. Unfortunately, these unhealthy tactics are all risk factors for hypertension. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with hypertension, they can make it worse. Healthier coping mechanisms, like exercise or deep breathing, on the other hand, actually lower blood pressure. This is especially important for those already combating hypertension. 

Hypertension-friendly ways to cope with stress

Stress is part of life, and it’s impossible to avoid it completely. In a perfect world, we’d reduce our stress and breathe easier. However, In today’s busy world, reducing stress can be challenging with pressures from work, traffic jams, kids, school, or family surrounding you on all sides. That’s why it’s key to learn to respond to stressors with healthy strategies that lower blood pressure instead of raising it. As a result, you can improve hypertension and promote wellbeing. 

Some blood pressure-friendly ways to cope with stress include:

If you’re seeking help managing hypertension, the team at Health First Primary Care can help. Contact us, either by calling or requesting an appointment online.

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