How Stress Affects the Body in Hypertension

How Stress Affects the Body in Hypertension
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Stress has become part of daily life, and it can affect the body in many ways. Stress-induced symptoms such as foggy thinking, a pounding heart, exhaustion, upset stomach, and headaches can be all-too-familiar for people who feel overwhelmed with stress.

Stress can also affect hypertension management, leading to increased blood pressure and health risks. Lark for Hypertension can help you manage stress when you have hypertension so blood pressure can stay down control and you can stay healthy as possible.

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What Is Stress?

Stress is your mind and body’s response to certain situations. In acute stress, we can think of the “fight or flight response” to a certain event. Cavemen may have needed to fight or flee from wild animals, for example, while modern people may experience the stress response when facing a driving test, a confrontation with a neighbor, a driving test, or busy day of travel with the family. Acute stress is a helpful adaptation to let your body do extraordinary things through increased focus and greater energy levels.

Chronic stress happens when stress stays around for days, months, or longer. Your body continues to prepare for fight or flight, but never catches much of a break. Chronic stress can come from a strained relationship, trouble at work or school, health concerns for yourself or others, and worries about money, for example. Chronic stress can lead to headaches, trouble concentrating and sleeping, and back, neck, and muscle aches. 

How Stress Can Affect the Body in Hypertension

Stress can greatly affect blood pressure and related areas of health. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are behind many of the effects of stress on the body.

Blood pressure can increase.

The stress response includes faster breathing and an increase in heart rate. Also, blood vessels constrict to be able to send more blood to your muscles so they can be ready to act. The result of these responses is higher blood pressure. If the stress response happens often, the effect on blood pressure can be significant. Hypertension can worsen and related risks, such as heart attacks and stroke, can increase as blood pressure does.

Risk for type 2 diabetes can increase.

Type 2 diabetes is closely tied to hypertension. Chronic stress can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by raising blood sugar and increasing insulin resistance. Chronic stress can also raise blood sugar and increase insulin resistance if you already have type 2 diabetes.

Cortisol signals your brain and body that it is time to prepare to take action. You may be able feel this as your heart pounds and muscles tense. At the same time, what you may not feel is that cortisol signals a hormone called glucagon to trigger the liver to release glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. The result: higher blood sugar.

This higher blood sugar also leads to insulin resistance, which is a characteristic of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. It results from a frequent strong insulin response due to frequent high blood sugar due to the chronic stress response.

Diabetes raises your risk for hypertension. High blood sugar, over time, can cause damage to arteries. Eventually, these blood vessels can harden and develop atherosclerosis, which reduces elasticity and increases blood pressure.

Weight gain can occur.

Another role of cortisol is to make sure that the energy that you might spend (whether fighting a bear or running to stop your toddler from toddling into the street) gets replaced. Cortisol can make you feel hungry even when your body does not truly need the extra food or calories. The result can be weight gain, which causes higher blood pressure. Lark for Hypertension can help you log your food and track your nutrition, without stressing over it, to help keep calories in check for a healthy weight.

Heart disease risks can increase.

Hypertension raises risk for cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks. Stress can add to the trouble. Stress-related weight gain and the accumulation of abdominal (belly) fat can lead to other heart disease risk factors, such as the following.

  • High total cholesterol and “bad” LDL-cholesterol.
  • Lower “good” HDL-cholesterol.
  • Interference with normal blood clotting.

Losing weight can be a challenge when stress is added to hypertension, but Lark has tools that can help, including tracking weight and offering personalized insights and tips when you need them. Lark for Hypertension also promotes a heart-healthy diet that can fit into your lifestyle.

How Stress Can Affect Lifestyle Choices and Further Affect Hypertension

How do you feel when you feel stressed out? Are you tired? Do you get achy muscles? Do you get discouraged? For many people, these and other effects of too much stress can get in the way of living a healthy lifestyle. Some consequences can include:

  • Stress-eating, or eating too much because of feelings or fatigue and not because of true hunger.
  • Skipping workouts because of feelings of fatigue, muscle aches, or feeling too busy to take time to work out.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption to dull feelings or generate a feeling of relaxation.
  • Increased smoking or tobacco use to manage anxiety.
  • Getting less sleep due to anxiety.

These can all harm health and get in the way of managing hypertension. Stress-eating, skipping exercise, and drinking more alcohol, for example, can all lead to weight gain, which can increase blood pressure. Sleep deprivation can increase stress hormones, which raise blood pressure, and also cause weight gain due to increased hunger. Skipping workouts can increase feelings of depression and reduce energy. The list goes on, but Lark can help you keep up – or establish – healthy habits that work both to fight stress and manage hypertension.

Stress Management and Hypertension

Nobody can or should get rid of stress entirely, but letting it overwhelm you is neither fun nor healthy. Stress management includes reducing stress where you can and, for the stress that remains, learning to respond to it in healthier ways.

High Blood Pressure Can Increase Your Risk of Diabetes, Check Now

Free Health Kit & Fitbit®
Systolic (Top Number) 80

Healthy habits such as staying physically active and eating well can help reduce the negative effects of stress. Lark’s stress management coaching also walks you through stress management techniques, from acknowledging stress to visualization. Breathing techniques are another stress management technique that can lower blood pressure.

Hypertension management is a balancing act that can have amazing payoffs in terms of long-term health and wellness. Stress can throw a wrench into the loop, but managing stress along with blood pressure can keep you as healthy as possible. Lark for Hypertension can help you manage stress and make smart choices that fit into your lifestyle so they can become habits.