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The American Heart Association, the Mayo Clinic and other trusted organizations and institutions list stress management as one of the key lifestyle changes for reducing blood pressure. There are many ways that you can lower stress to benefit your physical and mental health.

How Does Stress Affect Blood Pressure?

Stress is a part of the body’s natural defense mechanism. The purpose of the stress response is to allow you to fight or flee in a dangerous, life-threatening situation. When you face danger, your body releases chemicals called hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals make your heart beat faster and your blood vessels narrow to prepare you to defend yourself or run. When the threat passes, levels of these hormones fall, your heart rate slows and your blood vessels widen.

In modern life, most people aren’t put in life-threatening situations on a regular basis, but our stress response remains. When you become stressed due to work, relationships, financial problems, current events or other reasons, your body acts similarly to how it would if you were facing a bear in the wild. It releases adrenaline and cortisol to prepare you for action.

Unfortunately, modern stressors aren’t short-lived threats. They persist in our daily lives. This means that levels of adrenaline and cortisol can remain elevated for long periods. When your blood vessels remain chronically constricted, you may develop high blood pressure. The risk is even greater if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Get too much sodium in your diet
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Are overweight or obese, particularly if you have excess belly fat
  • Don’t exercise regularly
  • Smoke
  • Drink more than one alcoholic beverage per day if you’re a woman or two per day if you’re a man 

How to Lower Stress

Completely eliminating stress is usually not possible, but you can take steps to reduce its Completely eliminating stress is usually not possible, but you can take steps to reduce its effects and control it. Try incorporating more than one of these stress-reducing tips to enhance the effectiveness of your stress management efforts.

Be Realistic About Your Schedule

Spending your entire day on the run is stressful. If you find yourself consistently going straight from work to a jam-packed evening routine and barely having time to sit down on the weekends, rethink that hectic schedule. Cut back on some of your commitments, and don’t be afraid to say no when people ask you to attend events or assist with projects.

Improve Your Work-life Balance

Banking all of that vacation and paid time off may seem like a smart idea from a financial perspective, but not using time off available to you is a missed opportunity to take a break and de-stress. Find ways to take short breaks during the day to catch your breath. Approach your boss about your need to manage stress. You may be able to telecommute, change your hours or make other changes to your work environment and setup that take some stress off of you.

Talk to a Professional

Talking to a mental health professional like a counselor, therapist or psychologist can help you learn to better cope with stress. Therapy can also help you set manageable professional, personal and health goals and work toward achieving them. The Affordable Care Act requires most health insurance policies to cover mental health services, and if you don’t have insurance, you may be able to find a professional who offers a sliding scale for the uninsured.  

Seek Support from Friends and Family

Your friends and family members can be strong sources of support. Talk to someone that you trust about your feelings. When you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. Having someone to watch your children for a few hours so you can relax or go for a walk with you when you need to get away to vent can ease stress.

Be More Mindful

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment and the task you are currently completing. Doing so allows you to tune out some of the problems of daily life. The World Health Organization refers to mindfulness as grounding and recommends it for stress management.

Becoming more mindful requires ongoing effort. Don’t be discouraged if your mind wanders during your first attempts. Just redirect your thoughts back to the present and try again. Over time, mindfulness should become easier to maintain.

Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can calm the part of your nervous system that causes your stress response. When you feel yourself becoming stressed, you can try one of these techniques for relief:

Extended inhalation and exhalation

  1. Breathe in slowly.
  2. Continue to breathe in while counting to 10.
  3. Pause for 1 second.
  4. Breathe out slowly.
  5. Count to 10 as you breathe out.
  6. Repeat a few times.

Controlled breathing

  1. Breathe in until you feel your chest fill with air.
  2. Pause for 1 second.
  3. Continue breathing until you feel your stomach enage.
  4. Pause for 1 second.
  5. Slowly exhale slightly through your mouth.
  6. Pause for 1 second.
  7. Exhale the rest of the way.
  8. Repeat a few times.

Listen to Music

Music is an effective way to lower stress for many people. Play music during that stressful commute or wear earbuds at the office to tune out background noise. Create playlists to suit different moods like one with fast-paced songs when you need a pick-me-up or one with softer sounds for relaxing at the end of the day.

Get Enough Sleep

The American Psychological Association reports that adults who sleep fewer than 8 hours every night are more likely to report feeling stressed than those who do. Sleep gives your body and mind a chance to recover from the effects of the day. If you find it hard to get quality sleep, try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Also, avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. If you have ongoing sleep problems, discuss them with your primary care provider. 

Exercise Regularly

Increasing physical activity is an important lifestyle change for managing high blood pressure, and it can also help lower stress. When you exercise, your body releases brain chemicals called endorphins that improve mood. It may also help to lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Plus, exercising can serve as a temporary distraction from the problems that stress you.

Limit Screen Time

Social media connects you to the world, but it can also increase your level of stress. Take steps to unfollow or block sources of online stress. You can also consider turning off notifications, so your daily routine isn’t interrupted by a stressful post or update. Try to limit how much time you spend scrolling your feeds and put your phone down while you’re eating and spending time with friends and family.

Head Outside

Spending time in the fresh air enjoying nature can put stressors in perspective and give you a mental break. One study found that visiting natural environments like public parks reduced people’s physical and mental stress levels. 

Find Activities you Enjoy

Hobbies, sports and other recreational activities may help you de-stress. Setting aside time to complete activities you enjoy gives you a break from the rest of your life. Many activities also allow you to spend time with friends and family to strengthen your support system.

Try Meditation

Some people find guided meditation to be relaxing. There are many mobile apps to help you get started. As with mindfulness, meditation can be difficult to master. However, most people find that it becomes easier to focus their minds when they practice meditation regularly.

Consider Yoga

Yoga is a form of exercise that combines deep breathing with physical movements. One small study found that after 12 Hatha yoga sessions, women’s stress levels were significantly reduced. You can give yoga a try by participating in an in-person class or streaming a practice at home.

Keep a Stress Journal

Keeping track of your stress levels over time can help you identify triggers and take steps to reduce or avoid them. You can use a notebook or bound journal or take advantage of stress journal mobile apps. When making entries note the:

  • Date
  • Time
  • What you were doing
  • How high your stress was from 1 to 10
  • Physical symptoms
  • Emotional and mental symptoms

If you’re also checking your blood pressure levels at home, make entries in your stress journal following every check and record your blood pressure reading along with the other data.

Will Lowering Stress get rid of High Blood Pressure?

Lowering your stress levels is likely to decrease your blood pressure. If you have only slightly elevated blood pressure, it may be enough to bring levels into normal range. However, most people also need to at least make lifestyle changes, such as:

People who have high blood pressure frequently need blood pressure medication in addition to diet and exercise. If you have hypertension, a complete customized treatment plan that includes stress management, other lifestyle changes and medications if needed is the best way to manage blood pressure.

Forward Provides Ongoing Support for High Blood Pressure 

During our 12-week, doctor-led Healthy Heart program, we help you understand all of your risk factors for heart attack and heart disease. We partner with you as your primary care provider, recommending lifestyle changes like exercise, nutrition and stress management and creating plans to help you make these positive changes. In addition, we provide ongoing support and biometric monitoring, taking the stress out of managing hypertension. 

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