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Stress and high blood pressure

Reducing stress can help lower high blood pressure. Stress is a normal part of life. But too much stress can lead to emotional, psychological and even physical problems - including heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pains or irregular heart beats.

How does stress contribute to heart disease?

Medical researchers aren’t sure exactly how stress increases the risk of heart disease. Stress itself might be a risk factor or it could be that high levels of stress make other risk factors worse (such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure). For example, if you are under stress, your blood pressure goes up, you may overeat, you may exercise less and you may be more likely to smoke.

If stress itself is a risk factor for heart disease, it could be because chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Studies also link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of heart attack.

In 2014, scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School investigating the link between stress and heart attacks reported that stress causes our bodies to make a surplus of disease-fighting white blood cells. That in turn can increase inflammation in the arteries of people with a condition called atherosclerosis, where the artery walls are thickened by a build-up of plaque.

What are the warning signs of stress?

When you are exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signs that something is wrong. These physical, mental, emotional and behavioural signs of stress should not be ignored. They tell you that you need to slow down. If you continue to be stressed and you don’t give your body a break, you are likely to develop health problems. You could also aggravate an existing illness.

Below are some common warning signs of stress.

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 humour

Emotional signs

Anger, anxiety, crying, depression, feeling powerless, frequent mood swings, irritability, loneliness, negative thinking, nervousness, sadness

Behavioural 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

 

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