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How Stress Can Affect Your Blood Pressure – And What You Can Do About It

Gregory Pontone, MD, MBA, Cardiology

January 23, 2024

How Stress Can Affect Your Blood Pressure – And What You Can Do About It

Most if not all people feel stress in their lives, whether it’s at work, at home, or just getting from one place to another. Experiencing stress is a normal part of life; however, how we deal with it can make an important difference to our health.

Any time someone’s “fight or flight” instinct kicks in – a close call while driving; a sudden bark from a neighborhood dog – your blood pressure increases as stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released by your brain.

Usually our blood pressure returns to its normal level after the event has passed. However, repeated stressful events – even relatively low-level ones – over time can have a negative effect on our health. The consequences of having chronic high blood pressure can include a higher risk for heart attack or stroke, risks that are made worse if you suffer from diabetes or live a sedentary lifestyle.

The answer to relieving high blood pressure (hypertension) caused by stress for many people is simple: remove the source of stress. This can of course be easier said than done, but there are a host of options that can help you relieve the effects of longer-term stress – and that may help lower your blood pressure.

Exercising on a regular basis is a great way of releasing endorphins, which can increase feelings of well-being and therefore relieve stress; I recommend 30 minutes of mild-to-moderate exercise at least five times a week. Consider the benefits of deep-breathing exercises, yoga and other self-relaxation techniques, which can have a long-term effect by providing you with the tools to overcome, or at least better manage, your stress.

If you face the same stressors each day – battling traffic during a long commute, for example – you may want to look into how to better manage your time. There may be a way to avoid peak commuting time by going to and from work a little earlier or later.

It should be noted that the “usual suspects” can also cause high blood pressure. Use of nicotine and alcohol, eating unhealthy foods, and (the not necessarily disconnected issue of) lack of good sleep can all play a role.

There are also many medications available for those with high blood pressure that can be helpful, depending on what your BP numbers are. If your blood pressure is consistently higher than 140/90, you will likely need to take medication. Even then, you should observe healthy habits to lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.

“Just relax” can itself be a stressful thing to hear. But it can be an effective way to combat hypertension, if you have the discipline and an approach that is right for you.

Gregory Pontone, MD, MBA

Dr. Gregory Pontone is a noninvasive cardiologist and the Associate Medical Director of Ambulatory Quality and Physician Services at White Plains Hospital. To make an appointment, call 914-849-4800.