Stress and High Blood Pressure
A study published in the National Institutes of Health suggests that stress does not directly cause hypertension but it can have a significant impact on its development. Although hypertension or high blood pressure can be caused by many factors, there is no doubt that the effects of stress on a person’s blood pressure have become an increasingly important subject of research and study.
Psychological Stress and Blood Pressure
Studies conducted on students reveal that their heart rate and blood pressure are higher during exam days. The autonomic assessment is done using a computerized analysis of a person’s cardiovascular variability through an electrocardiogram. It includes analyzing the students’ responses to the psychological questionnaires given to them, along with the laboratory analysis of their saliva.
The levels of cytokines released and hormone cortisol being produced by the body are also measured through their saliva samples. The amount of proteins produced by the immune system when the body is in a stressful situation is also measured and included in the autonomic assessment.
The results reveal that the students’ heart rate and blood pressure are higher during their exam days than during vacation days. This convincingly shows that psychological stress is a large factor of both heart and respiratory health.
Persistent Stress Can Be Dangerous
Stress can make a person’s blood pressure temporarily soar above the normal levels. When the nervous system is stimulated the production of vasoconstricting hormones will rise thereby resulting in increased blood pressure. Causes of stress and the degree of reaction to it will vary from person to person.
As with all stress-related responses the temporary increase of blood pressure is not usually a problem. However, health issues occur when stress hormones are not dissipated and remain in the system due to chronic stress, causing the patient’s resting pulse rate and blood pressure to be persistently and dangerously elevated.
How One’s Attitude towards Stress Can Lead to Hypertension
Even if stress itself is not the direct cause of a person’s high blood pressure, the associated attitudes and behaviors of a person relating to that stress can contribute to the development of hypertension. For example, a common coping mechanism for many people is the habit of eating comfort foods in order to cope with stress.
These comfort foods are not nutritious but are usually high in sugar, sodium and additives that further increase the risk of hypertension and other health risks. Stress not only leads to emotional eating. It also changes a person’s food preferences. This is why stressed individuals have increased tendencies to choose sugar laden food and drinks paired with processed foods that are high in sodium content.
When Stress Leads to Persistent Food Cravings
The corticotrophin-releasing hormone produced by the brain’s hypothalamus during stress is known to suppress appetite temporarily. In times of stress this hormone will signal the adrenal glands to produce more epinephrine which revs up the body’s fight or flight response, which includes putting craving for food on hold.
If stress becomes persistent the adrenal glands will start producing a different hormone called cortisol that increases an individual’s appetite. Normally, cortisol levels go down once a stressful event is gone. However, if stress becomes chronic the body’s fight or flight response will also refuse to turn off resulting in persistent food cravings.