Lead author of the study, Paul Marvar, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine, says: “Chronic stress has long been known to have harmful effects on the immune system as well as being a risk factor for hypertension, our goal was to examine the role of T cells in stress-dependent hypertension.”
In the study, mice were subjected to two days of stress every day for a week, and the results showed that their blood pressure increased, compared to mice that were under the same circumstances but genetically modified to lack T-cells. T-cells produced by our immune system help us fight infections. What is interesting about these results is that several medications that control blood pressure may actually be helpful to reduce stress and anxiety.
“There are still many unanswered questions about clinical relevance and safety in treating hypertensive patients by targeting the immune system,” Marvar says. “Understanding what triggers the immune response in hypertension will ultimately guide the feasibility of future clinical applications.”
Although a direct link between stress and high blood pressure is still unclear, stress can indirectly cause elevated levels of blood pressure by affecting the nervous system, which in turn leads to the production of hormones that help raise blood pressure. But to fully understand how stress causes hypertension, let me introduce you to two small glands that you might not be aware of: Adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands sit on top of each of your kidneys and are, therefore, also called supra-renal glands.
These glands produce nonessential (you don’t need them to live) hormones that help your body react to stress. Two important hormones are adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Adrenaline rapidly responds to stress by increasing your heart rate and rushing blood to the muscles and brain.
Noradrenaline works with adrenaline in responding to stress. It constricts the blood vessels. This results in high blood pressure.
These two hormones are called the fright, flight, and fight hormones. If you are running, angry, or scared (all stress conditions), these hormones are released into the bloodstream, causing a rise in blood pressure and increased heart rate.
Now, if you’re running to catch a bus, your blood pressure shoots up, but it comes back to normal the moment you sit down in the bus. This temporary rise in blood pressure is not really harmful.
But if you’re stressed for days, even months, due to some emotional problem or because you are not able to pay your bills, or if you are suffering with poor health, then the blood pressure remains constantly elevated and can cause more harm.
Antihypertensive medications are helpful to a certain extent, but they come with an array of side effects. And since managing high blood pressure is a long-term project, positive lifestyle modification remains the cornerstone of controlling and managing high blood pressure and hypertension. By careful editing of your life and changing certain habits, you can eliminate most (not all) sources of stress in your life.
Let’s take a look at how stress builds up – it’s a little extreme, but it exemplifies the typical stressors in people’s lives.
Let’s say you wake up late in the morning and start rushing to get ready (stress 1). Because you’re rushing, you might spill your breakfast on your shirt, or nick yourself while shaving (stress 2). You rush out the door and rush back because you forgot your wallet (stress 3). Now on your way to work, you’re caught in a traffic jam (stress 4). Your temper starts to flare when someone cuts you off (stress 5). You honk, curse, and arrive to work late (stress 6) and in a bad mood. So even before you start your work you are consumed by stress. And as you can imagine the stress will just keep snowballing.
Simple tips to eliminate sources of stress naturally
Be punctual: Being late always stresses us out. Learn the habit of being early, and this stress disappears. Make a conscious effort to start getting ready earlier, and to leave earlier. Being early is a habit you could get used to.
Identify stressors: Take 10 minutes to think about what stresses you out during the day. What people, activities, things cause stress in your life? Make a list, and see which of them can be eliminated. For those that can’t be removed, find ways to make them less stressful.
Eliminate unnecessary commitments: We all have many commitments in our life, work, kids, our spouses, things to do at home, side work, religious activities, hobbies… Weigh the amount of stress they provide against the value you get. Edit brutally, and remove the ones that stress you out the most.
Simplify your to-do list: Attempting to do everything on your long to-do list will definitely stress you out. Simplify your to-do list to a few achievable tasks and you’ll enjoy the process much more.
Be organized: We’re all disorganized to some extent. Disorganization stresses us out, in terms of visual clutter, and in making it difficult to find stuff we need. Take time to get things in your life organized, starting with your desk and the papers in your home.
Don’t be a control freak: Trying to control situations and people only serves to increase anxiety when it doesn’t work. Learn to let go, accept the way other people work, and accept what happens in different situations. Remember, the only thing you can control is yourself.
Stay away from multitasking: Having multiple tasks going on at the same time might seem productive, but in actuality it slows us down from focusing on a task and completing it – and it stresses us out in the meantime. Learn to single-task.
Eliminate energy drains: Certain things in our life just cause us to be more exhausted than others, with less value. Identify them, and cut them out. You’ll have much more energy and much less stress.
Slow down: Instead of rushing through life, learn to take it easy. Enjoy your food, enjoy the people around you, and enjoy nature. This step alone can save tons of stress.
Relax: It’s important to take mini-breaks during your work day. Stop what you’re doing, massage your shoulders, neck, head, hands, and arms, and get up and stretch, walk around, and drink some water. Go outside and appreciate the fresh air and the beautiful sky. Life doesn’t have to be all about productivity.
Exercise: Exercising helps relieve the stress buildup. It gives you some quiet time to contemplate and relax, and just as importantly, it makes you more fit. A fitter person is better equipped to handle stress.
Eat healthy: This goes hand-in-hand with exercise as a stress prevention method, of course. Become healthier, and a major source of stress will disappear.
While all of the above tips to reduce stress work wonders, there are some pseudo-stress relievers that you should definitely stay away from. The reason I call them pseudo is because while they may temporarily reduce stress, they cause more damage in the long run. Avoid smoking, using pills, sleeping too much, drinking too much, and, yes, please, don’t try to take out your stress on others. It just does not work.
Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to manage stress. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. You will find that as you focus on what makes you feel calm and in control, you will be able to lower blood pressure naturally.
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