Do you notice how your body responds to stress? When you encounter a stressful situation, your body kicks into stress response mode. For example, if it's time to present the big slideshow you've been working on for months, your heart rate gets faster, and your blood pressure rises. And once the presentation is over, your body recovers, and blood pressure goes back to normal.
But when you experience constant or chronic stress, your body is always on high alert. Your blood pressure may go up frequently. And over time, frequent blood pressure jumps can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure). Consistently elevated blood pressure can cause or worsen a range of health complications.
Fortunately, you can learn to cope with stress in healthy ways. Better stress management can help you control hypertension. Your healthcare provider is your partner in managing stress and high blood pressure and can help you decide which methods are right for you. Talk with them about your physical and mental health to get on the path to less stress.
Know your stress triggers
One of the first steps to managing stress is learning your triggers. Are there certain events, activities or situations that cause you stress?
You can't always avoid your stress triggers, but you can prepare for them. Think about things that you can control and make a plan. You can lower your stress level by focusing on things within your power rather than things you can't control.
Things to avoid when stress strikes
It can be hard to deal with stressful situations. We want the stress to go away, so we might look for a "quick fix" to feel better in the moment, such as:
- Cigarettes or other tobacco products
Unfortunately, many of these solutions harm your health or make stress worse. Talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional if you find yourself frequently turning to unhealthy fixes to help deal with stress.
Healthy ways to manage stress
When you manage stress in healthy ways, you can help lower your blood pressure and boost your health. Try these proven ways to lower stress:
Put sleep on your schedule
When we're busy and stressed, sleep may get last place on the to-do list. But it should be one of the first things you focus on when you're overwhelmed. Inadequate or poor-quality sleep can harm your:
- Energy level
- Mental alertness
- Physical health
Getting quality sleep improves your mental and physical health, including your ability to deal with stress. Plus, when we sleep, our blood pressure drops. So a lack of quality sleep means your blood pressure stays higher for longer.
Improve your sleep with these tips:
- Create the right sleep environment: Keep your room dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature for you.
- Sleep on a schedule: Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Watch your caffeine intake: Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Prepare for sleep: Do a quiet activity like reading or a relaxation exercise 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Avoid pre-bedtime devices: Turn off phones, tablets and other devices at least an hour before you go to sleep.
If these changes don't help you get better sleep, talk to your provider. Sleep disorders, medications and some health conditions can interfere with sleep. Your provider can work with you to identify the cause of sleep issues so you can get treatment.
Moving your body helps you feel better mentally and can lower your blood pressure, too. Physical activity is a great way to manage hypertension and other heart conditions.
You don't need expensive equipment or a gym membership to get active. Pick any activity that gets your heart rate up, such as walking, dancing or biking. Even a few minutes of exercise has stress-relieving effects. Try to get 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. If you prefer, break it up into 10- or 15-minute chunks to fit your schedule.
If you have questions about what kind of exercise or activity level is right for you, talk with your healthcare provider.
Relaxation techniques are practices designed to calm your body's stress response. They can help lower your blood pressure, too. And no special training is needed to get started.
Deep breathing involves sitting comfortably in a quiet spot to focus on slow, deep breaths. You can do this almost anywhere. Try combining deep breathing with guided imagery, where you imagine yourself in a quiet, peaceful spot.
You can also learn other stress relief techniques through classes or videos, such as:
- Mindful meditation: A practice that involves focusing on the present moment
- Yoga: A mind and body practice with postures, breathing techniques and meditation
- Tai chi: A series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner
Connect with others
Experts say nearly everyone can benefit from social support. Spending time with others in person or virtually can help you lower stress and improve your health. You can take a class to learn something new or volunteer with a nonprofit.
And you don't need a huge circle of friends to feel connected. Having one trusted friend or family member to talk to can help you deal with life's challenges.
Remember, you don't have to do this alone. Reach out to a neighbor or friend. If family stress feels overwhelming, hold a family meeting to discuss these issues. Together, you can discover ways everyone can lower their stress. Talk about ways to find balance between work and family demands.
Support groups are another way to connect with people who are dealing with similar challenges. Search online for support groups that fit your needs or ask your healthcare provider for recommendations.
Find your solution to stress
We can't avoid all stress. But if you have some tools to cope with it, you can lower your blood pressure and enhance your overall health. If stress continues after taking these steps, ask your provider about other ways to manage it.
Sources: American Heart Association, American Psychological Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Sleep Foundation