Updated: Mar 30, 2021
By Dr. Shreya Batra, ND
How does stress impact your blood pressure/hypertension?
As we know, stress impacts multiple processes in our body. Alongside emotional turmoil during a stressful period, we may also experience changes in menstrual cycles and hormonal changes, thyroid imbalance, and more (as discussed in my previous blog posts).
How does stress impact our cardiovascular system and blood pressure (for those who have normal blood pressure and for those who already may have hypertension)?
When we are in an acute state of stress, our stress hormone, “cortisol”, is released and allows our body to go into “fight or flight” state. For instance, if we are being attacked by a bear, our body needs to turn all of our resources to either fight or flight from that bear. Cortisol will be released and will cause increased awareness, will tell the heart to pump more blood, increase heart rate, and constrict the blood vessels in the extremities to keep the blood in the core by the vital organs. This same response happens with any situation you may consider “stressful”. Now, this response to stress is ideal for short period of time, and once we’ve got away from the bear or the source of stress, the body expects everything to return to normal. However, the pressures from our society, our daily activities, family stress, etc… sometimes cause us to be in a constant state of stress – and cortisol is never brought down and our body doesn’t have time to recover.
A long-term state of stress will impact your cardiovascular system, just as it may impact your mental well being, effect a female’s menstrual cycle, and cause hormonal imbalances, such as thyroid dysfunction. One of the roles of cortisol is to constrict the blood vessels in the extremities to allow for the blood to remain in your core and protect your vital organs. If your blood vessels are chronically constricted, the pressure of blood increases, reflecting as a high blood pressure reading. Chronically elevated cortisol also increases inflammation in the body, which can cause plaque build-up in the blood vessels, also increasing blood pressure.
Although there are a variety of different factors which may cause high blood pressure, such as genetics, diet, lifestyle, medications…etc, stress is one thing that can be managed at home through non-pharmaceutical means.
Some well understood and researched methods to help reduce stress and manage high blood pressure include:
Meditation: studies show that those who were at risk of high blood pressure and those who had high blood pressure benefited from meditation techniques. Meditation allowed for relaxation, and allowed for stress-reduction.
Practice gratitude: being grateful for the things you have and the things you love may have an impact on your stress levels and ultimately blood pressure. There are studies that show that a state of gratitude has a positive and protective cardiovascular response.
Sleep: the right amount of sleep, and good quality sleep, is crucial to lower cortisol levels and reduce the impact of stress on the cardiovascular system. Poor sleep does not allow your body to repair and recover from a period of stress during the day, negatively impacting mood, energy, and heart health.
Acupuncture: Traditional Chinese medicine relies heavily on acupuncture for stress-relief and it has been suggested through various studies that acupuncture, in adjust to other recommendations, may be beneficial for treating high blood pressure.
Eat Healthy: Nourish your body with fruits, veggies, and whole foods. Having a diet full of sugar and/or processed foods will not give the body ability to recover after a period of stress. Focus on whole foods, fresh foods, and anti-inflammatory foods. There are also specific diets that may be beneficial for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease specifically, but be sure to discuss this with your Naturopathic Doctor.
Supplements: There are several supplements which are beneficial for your stress as well as cardiovascular health, however, this is a very individualized treatment and requires a full intake and treatment plan.
If you are experiencing periods of high stress and/or are worried about your cardiovascular health and blood pressure, reach out and let’s create a treatment plan that is right for you!
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