High blood pressure risks increase over the long term

Increases in blood pressure related to stress can be dramatic. But once the stressor disappears, your blood pressure returns to normal. However, even temporary spikes in blood pressure — if they occur often enough — can damage your blood vessels, heart and kidneys in a way similar to long-term high blood pressure.

In addition, if you react to stress by smoking, drinking too much alcohol or eating unhealthy foods, you increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Stress-reducing activities can lower your blood pressure

While reducing stress might not directly lower blood pressure over the long term, using strategies to manage your stress can improve your health in other ways. Mastering stress management techniques can lead to other behavior changes — including those that reduce your blood pressure.

When looking for ways to manage stress, remember that you have many options. For example:

  • Simplify your schedule. If you consistently feel rushed, take a few minutes to review your calendar and to-do lists. Look for activities that take up your time but aren't very important to you. Schedule less time for these activities or eliminate them completely.
  • Breathe to relax. Making a conscious effort to deepen and slow down your breathing can help you relax.
  • Exercise. Physical activity is a natural stressbuster. Just be sure to get your doctor's OK before starting a new exercise program, especially if you've already been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Exercise not only reduces stress but can actually lower your systolic blood pressure by as much as 5 to 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
  • Try yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation not only can strengthen your body and help you relax, but also may lower your systolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg or more.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Being sleep deprived can make your problems seem worse than they really are.
  • Shift your perspective. When dealing with problems, resist the tendency to complain. Acknowledge your feelings about the situation, and then focus on finding solutions.

The goal is to discover what works for you. Be open-minded and willing to experiment. Choose your strategies, take action and start enjoying the benefits.

Dec. 06, 2012 See more In-depth