Stress, whether it’s environmental or psychological, triggers a cascade of hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. Your heart pounds, your blood pressure rises, your breathing quickens, and your muscles tense. All are in preparation for what’s known as the fight-or-flight response, a survival mechanism that gets you ready to stand and fight an enemy or flee the scene if you feel overmatched.
Unfortunately, the body can respond to stressors that aren’t life-threatening, like traffic jams, losing a job, or problems at home, becoming a chronic condition. Levels of stress hormones remain elevated; with nowhere to go, they wreak havoc on the body.
Research suggests that chronic stress affects vascular health, contributing to high blood pressure and heart disease, promoting the formation of plaque buildup on artery walls, and leading to obesity, either directly (stress eating) or indirectly (if you don’t get enough sleep or exercise).
Stress also leads to brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction, all of which can exacerbate vascular conditions.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman help their patients achieve and maintain vascular health, including treating stress-related problems like hypertension. To help you learn the importance of managing your stress, they’ve put together this guide on how it impacts your vascular health.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, affects nearly half of American adults, including almost 75% of those over 65. It’s measured as the pressure of blood against your artery walls when your heart actively beats over the pressure of blood when your heart is at rest. If the numbers (measured in mmHg) are higher than 120/80, Drs. Aslam and Norman say, your pressure is too high.
High blood pressure can lead to many complications, including heart disease, coronary artery disease, stroke, dementia, and kidney disease. The pressure against the walls in the venous portion of your circulatory system, which returns deoxygenated blood to the heart, can also damage the delicate valves that force blood to flow forward, leading to varicose veins, leg swelling (edema), deep vein thrombosis, and venous ulcers.
As we’ve mentioned, chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure. One study reported that people with chronic high stress levels were over 60% more likely to have hypertension than those who reported little stress.
In addition to a physiological response, enduring stress may also lead to unhealthy ways of coping, such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, and too much alcohol, all of which can raise your blood pressure.
Hypertension, though, often doesn’t present any symptoms until the damage is already done, which is why it’s sometimes called the “silent killer.” That makes getting regular checkups that include blood pressure readings important to catch the problem before it becomes too advanced to treat easily and successfully.
Changing some lifestyle factors can help you reduce your level of stress and complications for your vascular health. Here are some suggestions.
Change your expectations
- Give yourself enough time to get things done.
- Learn to say “no.”
- Reduce your to-do list each day; reevaluate priorities and learn to live within manageable limits.
Reduce stress by recognizing where you have control
- Understand you can’t control every event in your life.
- Accept things you can’t change.
- Change how you handle events emotionally and psychologically.
- Make plans to solve problems under your control.
Create a healthy lifestyle
- Exercise regularly, doing something you enjoy.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Limit alcohol and don’t smoke.
- Relax for short periods as you’re able; take 15-20 minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and let your mind go.
- Practice gratitude and joy.
- Develop supportive, nurturing relationships that foster growth.
Above all, identify the things that bring you pleasure and find ways to enjoy them.
Want to learn more about how stress impacts your vascular health? Set up an evaluation with the doctors at Northwest Houston Heart Center. Give us a call at any of our locations (Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas), or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.