You won’t necessarily develop long-term high blood pressure from chronic stress, but reducing your stress levels can certainly help to prevent many disease states, including one with blood pressure issues. In addition to feelings of emotional discomfort when you’re under stress, your body produces extra stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. These are the hormones released during the ‘fight or flight’ response, and in short intervals are harmless (in fact, they’re necessary to help us get away from or fight off would-be attackers). But since you’re not built to be under stress for long periods (like high-stress work or home environments), your body isn’t built to deal with long periods of exposure to adrenaline and cortisol. The result? While there’s no direct link to chronic stress and high blood pressure, it’s thought that over-exposure to stress hormones may cause damage to your blood vessels, leading to heart disease.
Another more obvious contributing factor may be lifestyle choices that you make when you’re under stress. When overwhelmed, it’s easy to ignore a salad and ‘reward’ yourself with a meal consisting of a burger, fries and beer instead. You may think that you’re dealing with stress by eating and drinking away your worries, but you’re really compounding the problem. Excessive caloric intake leads to fat storage, which puts a real strain on your heart. And it affects the way you think too, making it more difficult to deal with your stress, putting you into a vicious stress-eat-stress cycle.
In addition, lack of sleep and exercise put even greater pressure on your heart. Sleep issues have been linked to a poorly pumping heart, and you probably already know that an under-exercised heart won’t work as well either.
To help relieve some of the stress on your heart, try making sure that your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables – at least six or seven servings a day (a serving, by the way, is about handful). Whole grains can help too, as well as lean meats. Reward yourself with some high fat yogurt if you like something rich – it’s tasty and it’s still good for you, in moderation.
Also focus on getting some regular exercise, even if it’s just walking around while you’re on that important call! And get some sleep. Above all, turning your brain off for eight hours day will help you feel rejuvenated, and better equipped to handle a busy day. Sometimes the most important part of getting ahead is knowing when to let things rest for a bit. It’s easy to plan vacations, but an eight hour vacation every day will do wonders for your heart.
Sometimes time management is the issue, so take a look at how you’re scheduling your day, if you’re even scheduling things at all. Writing down your tasks and planning them out, along with adding in some time to tune down, will help you deal with the potential stressors coming at you. And add in some humour – a funny movie or a trip a comedy club can lower your stress levels dramatically. Laughing truly is a great therapy!
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner