Hypertension is a silent killer, as it rarely comes with any symptoms. However, it’s one of the best markers for heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer in the United States. Researchers are still discovering the effects of chronic stress on the circulatory system. But one thing is certain: People who experience more stress also have higher blood pressure.
To help you determine whether stress is one of the causes of your hypertension, Dr. Samuel I. Fink put together this short guide that explains who’s more likely to develop high blood pressure from stress and what types of stress are harmful.
Do you worry a lot, or do you have a tendency to expect things to turn out the wrong way? Not everyone responds to external stimuli the same way. People at the higher end the neuroticism spectrum get stressed out more often.
Neuroticism is a personality trait characterized by high emotional reactivity and pessimism, and studies suggest it’s linked to higher blood pressure levels.
Another school of thought argues that it’s not the stress itself that causes damage to your blood vessels and heart; it’s your reaction to stress that does.
Some research indicates a link between stress and unhealthy habits such as emotional eating, alcoholism, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle. In other words, the way you deal with stressful situations can influence your blood pressure.
One study that looked at stress levels and how men and women responded to stress found that women were less likely to develop hypertension — not because they experience less stress, but because they manage it better. The majority of men surveyed used comfort food and alcohol to cope after a long day of work, whereas many of the women turned to yoga and relaxation techniques.
Short-term stress (acute stress) makes your senses sharper, and it improves your focus and motivation levels. Your body increases your adrenaline and cortisol levels to power you through the immediate situation you’re dealing with.
Chronic stress occurs when you can’t immediately solve the main problem you’re facing. Examples of these situations include being in an abusive relationship, suffering from a chronic illness, and living in poverty.
Having elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels over an extended period can lead to higher blood pressure, and it may also cause you to experience anxiety, insomnia, and memory issues.
Stress is just one of the risk factors that can cause hypertension, but there are techniques you can use to help lower your stress and keep your blood pressure in check. Often, lifestyle changes — such as improving your diet and losing weight, practicing relaxation techniques, and quitting smoking — are enough to improve your levels. If such changes aren’t enough, Dr. Fink can prescribe medication.
If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked recently or if you want to find out how you can avoid complications with your hypertension, contact Samuel I. Fink, MD, to schedule an appointment and get personalized advice and treatment.