Stress and High Blood Pressure: Seven Ways to Keep it Down, adapted from the Harvard Medical School Health Beat Newsletter:
When it comes to preventing and treating high blood pressure, one strategy that M.D.s often overlook is managing stress. If you often find yourself tense and on-edge, if you tend to impatience and irritability, or road rage, or tossing and turning at night, or lieing awake staring at the ceiling thinking of work or the day that’s passed, try these seven strategies to reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep. Inadequate or poor-quality sleep can negatively affect your mood, mental alertness, energy level, and physical health. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are excellent methods for treating insomnia. Sleep culture is what you do to create a good sleep environment. Read more: Insomnia Cure
- Learn relaxation techniques. Mindfulness editation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and yoga are powerful stress-busters. Mindfulness practice is the best, because it gives you the tools to deal with the stressors you cannot change, and it trains you how to reduce the nervous system response that causes high blood pressure. Lovingkindness Meditation is superb because it softens your heart.
- Strengthen your social network. Connect with others by taking a class, joining an organization, or participating in a support group. One of my patients reported her acne improving when she took an art class. What was missing in her life and frustrating her was a lack of connection.
- Hone your time-management skills. The more efficiently you can juggle work and family demands, the lower your stress level. Making time for fun is very important. And making time for yourself in a healthy way. I often find patients who are afraid to be healthily selfish, like taking a day off or getting a massage. You take care of others better when you also take care of yourself.
- Try to resolve stressful situations if you can. Don’t let stressful situations fester. Hold family problem-solving sessions and use negotiation skills at home and at work. But you have to learn skillful means for doing so. Here again mindfulness practice can give you the tools to listen well, and to take care of yourself and others while at the same time putting yourself in their shoes. Marriage or family therapy with someone intelligent, experienced, and skilled can be invaluable for resolving stressful situations with loved ones, and also for getting the skills to manage work well.
- Nurture yourself. Treat yourself to a massage. Massage does more than self nurture, but, like classical Chinese acupuncture, it has been proven to lower blood pressure. Nurturing touch has that affect, as does petting the dog. In Mindfulness practice we learn how to truly savor any experience, no matter how tiny: for example, eat slowly and really focus on the taste and sensations of each bite. Eating Food Meditation But also, remember to just stop and smell the roses. I recently was on a walk in the canyon here with a friend stressed out about how much weight she feels she needs to lose. But she was walking so intensely, as if trying to shake the ground with each step. We were passing through a field of wild mustard greens ablaze with yellow flowers, mixed with silvery sage, some plant with red berries, and a palm or two. It was so beautiful I just stopped for minute to take it all in, to be nourished my mother nature, our first mother, because our biological mom was made of air, water, and food. She turned, irritated, why are you stopping? I pointed silently. She burst into tears, and finally relaxed and slowed down. So, as the teachers in elementary school used to say, “walk, don’t run.” (Obviously run when you need to.) Taking a nap, or listen to your favorite music, can also de-stress and lower blood pressure
- Ask for help. This one applies, stereotypically, to men. Can’t tell you how many of my male patients were dragged here by their wives or girlfriends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your spouse, friends, and neighbors. If stress and anxiety persist, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicines and Mindfulness meditation Calming Your Anxious Mind are very helpful.