April is National Stress Awareness Month, an initiative to increase awareness about the causes (and cures) of the modern day stress epidemic. And this is an initiative we seem to sorely need: according to recent studies, 52 percent of us feel stress has a detrimental effect on our health.
And while the evidence seems clear that too much stress is a bad thing, quantifying stress and its direct impact on aspects of our health – such as our blood pressure levels – is something researchers are still working to define.
What we do know is that when we experience high levels of stress, our blood pressure temporarily goes up (just ask anyone who has had their BP taken at the doctor’s office!).
So why does your blood pressure go up in stressful situations? Your body produces a surge of hormones when you’re in a stressful situation. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster and blood vessels to narrow. All this means higher blood pressure, at least temporarily, until the stress hormones go back to a normal level.
And, though there’s no proof (at least at this point) that stress by itself causes long-term high blood pressure, temporary spikes in blood pressure– if they occur often enough – can still damage your blood vessels, heart and kidneys in a way that is similar to long-term high blood pressure.
At A&D Medical, we believe you are “More Than a Measurement”, which means that stress and its relationship to blood pressure – both directly and indirectly – are great examples of how routine blood pressure measurements can be so much more than just the reading on the screen.
SIGNS OF STRESS
As you might have guessed from what you’ve read so far, an increase in your blood pressure levels on a regular basis can be a sign that stress levels in your life may have increased. If you notice this pattern, there are other warning signs our bodies provide in times of stress as an additional gut check. A recent article from Web MD offers the following stress indicators to pay attention to:
- Physical signs: Dizziness, general aches and pains, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, headaches, indigestion, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, ringing in the ears, stooped posture, sweaty palms, tiredness, exhaustion, trembling, weight gain or loss, upset stomach
- Mental signs: Constant worry, difficulty making decisions, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, lack of creativity, loss of sense of humor
- Emotional signs: Anger, anxiety, crying, depression, feeling powerless, frequent mood swings, irritability, loneliness, negative thinking, nervousness, sadness
- Behavioral signs: Bossiness, compulsive eating, critical of others, explosive actions, frequent job changes, impulsive actions, increased use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawal from relationships or social situations
If these sound all too familiar, the good news is there are easy ways to decrease stress levels in your life. Tune in to our next blog posting, “Stress Management: How to Lower Stress Levels (and Blood Pressure!)” to read more on this topic.