Managing Stress to Control High Blood Pressure

Older man relaxing on couch with headphones

The importance of stress management

Stress management is a life skill and a lifesaver. The relationship between stress and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is still being studied. Yet stress is known to contribute to risk factors such as a poor diet and overuse of alcohol.

How stress affects your health

We may feel emotional discomfort when faced with a stressful situation. Our bodies can react by releasing stress hormones into the blood. These hormones make the heart beat faster. They also constrict blood vessels to get more blood to your muscles so you’ll have more strength to react to the cause of the stress. This is called the “fight or flight” response.

These changes raise blood pressure temporarily. When the stress reaction goes away, blood pressure returns to its pre-stress level. This is called situational stress. Its effects are usually short-lived and go away when the stressful event is over.

“Fight or flight” is important when we are faced with a threat we can handle by confronting or fleeing. However, there are many stressful events that we can’t handle by fighting or leaving. Long-term stress can cause our bodies to go into high gear on and off for days or weeks at a time. The links between  long-term stress and blood pressure are not clear and are still being studied. 

Fight stress with healthy habits

Exercise regularly. Walk, swim, ride a bike or jog to get your muscles going. Do what you enjoy. Sleep at least 7 hours a night. You feel better when you let go of the tension in your body. Limit alcohol, don’t overeat and don’t smoke.

Build resilience

Practice ways to enhance your ability to handle stress.

  • Connect with others: Being socially connected can help reduce stress. Reach out and talk with family members, friends or co-workers.
  • Take care of your mood: Relaxing is important. Even if you are busy, take 15 to 20 minutes a day to:
    • Sit quietly
    • Breathe deeply
    • Think of a peaceful picture
  • Spend time developing supportive and nurturing relationships: We all need supportive and encouraging relationships. Work on relationships that build character and foster growth.
  • Practice gratitude and joy:
    • Practice gratitude. Change how you respond to difficult situations. Focus on the positive. Expressing gratitude can help you feel good about life and reduce stressful thoughts.
    • Know what brings you pleasure and find ways to enjoy the experience. Perhaps you enjoy volunteering or cooking your favorite foods. When you take time to participate in these activities and enjoy them, you can build a satisfying life. 

Learn more about how stress affects the body.