When someone says a stressful situation raised their blood pressure, there’s real truth to that statement. Emotional and mental stress, especially when it’s chronic, plays a significant role in high blood pressure.
How Does Stress Cause High Blood Pressure?
When you’re under stress, such as when you’re sitting in traffic and are late for an appointment, it activates your sympathetic nervous system. That’s the same system that’s associated with your body’s “fight-or-flight” response.
When your sympathetic nervous system activates, it floods your bloodstream with cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline. It also accelerates your heart rate, dilates your pupils, constricts your blood vessels, and raises your blood pressure.
If you needed to physically react to stress, such as running from an attacker, these responses can save your life by helping you to flee. But the problem is that your body reacts to mental and emotional stress the exact same way it reacts to physical stress, and chronic stress can cause sustained high blood pressure.
What also surprises people is that grief is a powerful mental stressor. That’s why I always encourage people who have lost someone close to them to check their blood pressure more often.
The Good News Is You Can Counteract the Effects of Stress
While you can’t remove all stressors from your life, you can reduce high blood pressure caused by stress. You can do that with activities that manipulate your sympathetic nervous system activity, calming your system and defusing emotional anxiety.
Here are some of the most powerful ways to defuse stress and lower your blood pressure:
- Practice Yoga: Many studies have confirmed that practicing the mind-body activities of yoga effectively helps to reduce your blood pressure naturally and lower stress. Studies of adults with high blood pressure have also shown that yoga-based interventions can reduce the need for high blood pressure medication. Yoga does not require an enormous time commitment. Just 30 minutes of yoga a day can have a positive effect on your blood pressure.
- Engage in Tai Chi: Often referred to as “meditation in motion,” Tai Chi calms the body and mind. It consists of a series of postures and movements that are performed slowly and gracefully, along with breathing techniques that induce a state of relaxation and tranquility. In one study of 76 healthy people who had high-normal blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension, Tai Chi was shown to reduce blood pressure and aid in lowering stress after the participants had practiced it for 50 minutes, three times a week for 12 weeks.
- Practice Transcendental Meditation: The ancient practice of transcendental meditation, also known as TM, has been the focus of more than 600 scientific studies, including nine randomized controlled trials involving people with high blood pressure. A University of Kentucky review of these studies found that compared to controls, TM reduced blood pressure naturally by a clinically significant average of 4.7 systolic points and 3.2 diastolic points after at least 8 weeks of practice.
- Spend Time in Nature: A study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that people who spend at least 30 minutes in green spaces each week are less likely to have high blood pressure and depression.
- Get Grounded: I’m a big believer in the practice of Earthing, otherwise known as grounding, for all aspects of heart health—particularly when it comes to lowering blood pressure. By walking barefoot outside, you allow your body to draw in the Earth’s electrons and discharge harmful electro-pollution. The simple act of grounding yourself to the earth decreases inflammation, lowers stress, and increases calmness.