It’s no secret that stress can cause high blood pressure, and 2020 was one of the most stressful years on record.
Perhaps one of the things that has made the COVID-19 pandemic so challenging is that the tension has been relentless. The situation has been ongoing for more than a year, and while the vaccination is available, it is likely that there will be several more months of pandemic anxiety through at least part of 2021.
If you or someone you love was impacted by the virus, this makes the situation even more difficult. You can easily be overwhelmed, and it’s vitally important to cope with stress in a healthy and productive way.
(Please note that the pandemic and vaccination schedule are ongoing and have been rapidly developing since the publication of this blog post. We encourage you to get the latest up-to-date information from the Centers for Disease Control. )
We’ll examine a few ways you can determine if the pandemic may be affecting your blood pressure and provide some useful pointers to help you cope.
First, a quick refresher on a few points about high blood pressure.
What You Need to Know
High blood pressure is a killer—plain and simple. It paves the way for serious problems such as heart disease, stroke and heart attacks.
In fact, you may be surprised to know that almost half of all American adults have it, according to information from the American Heart Association.
How Do You Feel When You Have High Blood Pressure?
Believe it or not, you probably feel fine.
High blood pressure is called a “silent disease” because often, there aren’t any symptoms. Many Americans may not even be aware that they have high blood pressure
This means it’s vital for you to have your blood pressure checked regularly as a part of your annual wellness checkups.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 (often described as “120 over 80”). If your blood pressure is consistently 130/80 or higher, you have high blood pressure.
What Will Happen if My Blood Pressure Is Too High?
High blood pressure can lead to all kinds of serious health problems—it puts you at a greater risk of having a stroke or a heart attack.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
There are several potential causes of high blood pressure, ranging from not getting enough exercise to diabetes to obesity.
And of course, stress plays a part in the disease.
How Does Stress Affect Blood Pressure?
When you’re in a stressful situation, your body produces more hormones that cause your heart to beat faster and narrow your blood vessels. If you’re constantly in this “fight or flight” state, it can increase your risk of high blood pressure.
There’s also an indirect way that stress can raise your blood pressure: how you react to stressful situations.
Sometimes, people turn toward unhealthy habits to manage stress. This includes eating “comfort foods,” smoking and drinking alcohol in excess.
Over time, these unhealthy habits add up and can increase your risk of developing long-term high blood pressure.
While high blood pressure can be easily treated through lifestyle modifications and medication, it’s equally important that you learn how to manage stress in productive, healthy ways. We’ll provide a few tips that are particularly relevant to the pandemic in general.
How to Cope With Pandemic Stress
Don’t Go It Alone
With quarantine and social distancing, you may feel more isolated than ever. Therefore, find creative solutions to stay in touch with those you love. Whether it involves Zoom or FaceTime for virtual visits or socially distanced (and masked) outdoor visits, you can find ways to interact without putting your health in jeopardy.
Give Yourself a Break
Now is not the time to be hard on yourself. Maybe you’re frustrated because a household renovation project wasn’t started or that you’ve already violated your New Year’s resolutions. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s the perfect indicator that you’re ready for a break.
Take deep breaths or do something you enjoy for a few minutes before jumping back into your workload or projects.
It’s important to remain informed—the pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives. However, there is such a thing as “information overload.”
Try to avoid spending too much time watching the news, especially if you find it overly stressful. It’s also important to be judicious over your use of social media, and be wary of misinformation from unreliable sources.
Learn to Relax
Yoga or meditation is an excellent way to unwind in general, and during a pandemic this may be even more important. If yoga isn’t your style, try to practice deep breathing or some of these other relaxation techniques:
- Focus on a pleasant memory
- Imagine yourself in a peaceful setting
- Slowly tense and relax your muscle groups one at a time
- Take deep, slow breaths
Get Plenty of Sleep
Even in the best of times, Americans are chronically sleep deprived Add the strain of a pandemic, and the problem is exacerbated.
It’s very important to be sure you’re getting enough sleep. If you’re having difficulty, try to follow these sleep hygiene tips from the Centers for Disease Control:
- Don’t oversleep on weekends. Be sure you get up and go to bed at the same time every day.
- Avoid caffeine, especially in the late afternoons and evenings.
- Avoid large meals.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Avoid doing any work from your bedroom.
- Don’t have any electronic devices in your bedroom.
If, after implementing these techniques, you still have trouble sleeping, you may want to schedule an appointment with our Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine team to determine if stress or something else is causing your insomnia.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Sometimes, you need to speak with a professional to help you through a difficult time. Whether you confide in a clergy member or trained psychologist, we encourage you to talk to someone you can trust.
We outline some additional tips in our previous blog.
Is Pandemic Stress Affecting Your Blood Pressure?
Of course, you can’t determine if you have a problem when you don’t even know what your blood pressure readings are. This is why it’s so important to have regular appointments with your primary care doctor, who will monitor your condition to ensure your blood pressure is at a healthy level.
If you’ve found that your blood pressure is consistently elevated despite being at normal levels in the past, it could be possible that the stress of the past year is affecting you, especially if you are taking comfort in unhealthy activities such as smoking.
Conway Medical Center Is Compassionate Care That You Can Trust
For decades, we’ve focused on improving the health of our community and transforming lives. Our wide range of services covers every aspect of your wellness, from cardiac care to nutrition.
Don’t wait for your blood pressure to increase and create a life-threatening situation. Take a proactive role in your health and schedule an appointment with a primary care provider today.