Feeling The Pressure

Unhealthy habits for dealing with stress may contribute to high blood pressure

For a natural response that once helped us survive as a species, “fight or flight” sure seems to cause us health problems today. Our bodies react to situational stress by releasing hormones that make our heart beat faster and constrict our blood vessels, getting us pumped up to either confront a threat or run. This raises blood pressure, though luckily it is only temporary.

Chronic stress can cause this reaction in our bodies over longer periods of time. While there is not a clear link between chronic stress and high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), there may be some high blood pressure risks in how some of us deal with that stress.

“Stress by itself does not cause high blood pressure, but being in combination with other factors can make it a contributor,” says Marc Wilkinson, MD, of St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care located in Rincon.

Many of these factors are lifestyle choices that might be used to cope with stress. 

How NOT To Manage Stress:

  • Overeating or poor diet
  • Being overweight and not exercising
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol

Better Ways To Manage Stress:

  • Deep breathing
  • Simple yoga or meditation
  • Talking with family or friends
  • Professional counseling

Dr. Wilkinson reminds patients that successfully avoiding risky habits that affect blood pressure also has a positive impact on a person’s overall health.

“Some people use their faith to help them through stressful situations,” he adds.  

Family history plays its own role in the risk of high blood pressure, and medication may be necessary for certain patients even when they are able to manage their stress levels well.

Dr. Wilkinson encourages everyone to exercise, though he understands that people who are under stress at work or at home may not feel that there is time for it. However, for people who make the time, the benefit is two-fold.

“Exercise is a good way to get blood pressure down,” Wilkinson says. “It also releases chemicals called endorphins, which can help reduce stress.”