Seven tips to control stress, blood pressure – yes, even during a pandemic
COVID-19, Heart Health
It’s such a stressful time in our world, more so than many of us have ever seen. With stress can come complications with your health, especially regarding anxiety and blood pressure.
“One of the symptoms of anxiety or being stressed is that your blood pressure goes up,” says Allison Presnell, clinical pharmacist with St. Joseph’s/Candler. “Certainly, going through this COVID-19 pandemic and the changes that it’s had on our daily lives can be really stressful.”
Presnell is a clinical pharmacist at the St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care practice on the Islands. She works closely with physicians and patients to manage stress and blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the artery wall. Generally speaking, a normal blood pressure range is when the systolic pressure (top number) is below 120 and the diastolic pressure (bottom number) is below 80. When these numbers are higher than those thresholds, blood pressure is considered elevated (120-129 and less than 80) to high (anything greater than 130 and 80).
If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, damaged arteries, kidney damage and vision loss.
The good news is high blood pressure, as well as stress, can be controlled and even reversed. It doesn’t always have to be through medication, and that’s coming from a clinical pharmacist.
“I think during this time more than ever before we are seeing an increase in patients that previously didn’t have problems with stress or anxiety experience symptoms because of work stress, working from home, childcare and just the unknown. The unknown can be very scary at times,” Presnell says. “But there are a lot of things, not just medications, that you can do to take a holistic approach to your healthcare. Overall, it’s about staying healthy – mind, body and spirit – especially during this time of a pandemic.”
Seven tips to control stress and blood pressure
- Watch your diet: It’s easy to load up on salty snacks, processed meats and other comfort foods during a stressful time. But Presnell encourages maintaining a balanced and healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Avoid salty foods as much as possible, she adds. Salt has a known connection to high blood pressure.
- Get your exercise: The American Heart Association recommends exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Don’t let that be intimidating if you don’t regularly work out or if you are still avoiding the gym. Presnell says taking a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood or even gardening gets your heart rate up and can lower stress levels.
- Get plenty of sleep: Stress can manifest to difficulty sleeping, which can have negative effects on your mental and physical health. Try to get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Avoid watching television in bed or spending too much time on your phone before bedtime.
- Practice mindful meditation: Techniques such as prayer, meditation, yoga and even stretching can be good for the mind, body and spirit, reducing stress and anxiety symptoms, Presnell says. If you are unfamiliar with any of these practices, there are numerous apps and online videos – many of which are free – that you can follow right from the comfort of your own home.
- Avoid excessive caffeine: During this time when we are home more, it’s important to make sure we are not over consuming caffeine. In excess, caffeine may cause increased blood pressure and insomnia, not to mention headaches, increased urination, increased heart rate, heartburn and muscle aches.
- Limit alcohol use: Alcohol may seem like a good idea for stress relief, but too much can increase your blood pressure and impact other medical conditions as well. For women, it’s recommended to limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day, and men, two drinks per day.
- Stop or quit smoking: Smoking isn’t just linked to lung disease and lung cancer. It has a negative impact on many aspects of our health. While a puff here or there might relieve your stress, every time you smoke, it also causes a temporary increase in blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Smoking also is known to cause damage to your arteries.
When medication may be needed
If lifestyle adjustments don’t help your stress level or blood pressure, then reaching out to your healthcare provider for referrals or medications is recommended.
“If your stress is negatively impacting your ability to function at work or at home, I would encourage you to reach out to your healthcare provider. Referrals to counseling or mental health specialists or the use of medications is recommended if stress of COVID, or stress in general, is overwhelming,” Presnell says. “There’s nothing wrong to reach out to your doctor and see if relief can be achieved through counseling or medication.”
As it relates to blood pressure, Presnell says if lifestyle adjustments help your stress but your blood pressure is still elevated, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to see if your medications may be needed or changed, if you are currently on high blood pressure medicine.
Side note: Don’t let COVID-19 stop you from taking current medications
Presnell also points out that those of a certain age or with certain medical conditions may not be ready to leave the house yet. That’s OK. But, it’s important to keep up with your medications and never stop a prescription without talking to your doctor first.
Ask a family member or neighbor to get your prescription and leave it at the door step. Most pharmacies have pick-up windows where you don’t even have to leave your car.
“It’s not safe to just stop taking your medications abruptly because it can have negative consequences on your body and there’s risk of side effects,” Presnell says. “If you are running out of medication, I would reach out to your pharmacy to request a refill. Pharmacists are working really hard to make sure medications are safely reaching their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.”