Chronic emotional and mental stress is a big contributor to high blood pressure, because stress causes a sustained increase in the activity in the sympathetic nervous system—the part of your nervous system associated with the fight-or-flight response. When your sympathetic nervous system is activated, it floods your blood with cortisol and adrenaline, accelerating your heart rate, constricting your blood vessels and increasing blood pressure.
If you need to lower your blood pressure, one of the best things you can do to reduce stress is learn how to manipulate sympathetic nervous system activity with techniques to calm your system, defuse emotional anxiety and promote optimal physical and mental balance. The following mind-body methods, which I practice myself and recommend to all my patients, are ideal for lowering high blood pressure over the long term.
Techniques in Reducing Stress and Blood Pressure
Recognize Your Triggers
The higher your psychological stress level, the higher your blood pressure is likely to be. That’s why I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to learn to recognize the triggers of your stress and promptly deal with them. Luckily, reducing your stress level can be as easy as learning when you need to breathe more deeply, laugh more often, or spend more time with your pet. Learn eight time-tested stress-reduction techniques to help lower your blood pressure.
Manage Your Emotions
Your emotions, particularly anger and grief, are hidden risk factors for high blood pressure. That’s because while high blood pressure may be caused by a chemical imbalance, unhealthy diet or excess weight, its other name—hypertension—also reflects another major cause. Hypertension can arise because you are “hyper-tense”—filled with bottled-up anger or grief. For specific tips, read my recommendations for how to defuse your anger or how to manage your grief to help lower your blood pressure.
Move Your Mind and Body
Hundreds of studies have confirmed that practicing the mind-body activities of yoga, T’ai Chi or transcendental meditation effectively lowers blood pressure and helps in reducing stress. Check out these stats, then see if there’s a class near you:
Yoga. Studies of hypertensive adults with and without coronary disease have shown that yoga-based interventions can reduce the need for high blood pressure medication. Yoga does not require an enormous time commitment: Daily 30-minute yoga sessions have been shown to lower blood pressure.
T’ai Chi. T’ai Chi has been referred to as “meditation in motion.” It consists of a series of postures and movements that are performed slowly and gracefully, along with breathing techniques that induce a state of relaxation and tranquility. In one study of 76 healthy people who had high-normal blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension, T’ai Chi was shown to lower blood pressure and aid in reducing stress after the participants had practiced it for 50 minutes, three times a week for 12 weeks.
Transcendental meditation. The ancient practice also known as TM has been the focus of more than 600 scientific studies, including nine randomized controlled trials involving people with high blood pressure. A University of Kentucky review of these studies found that compared to controls, TM lowered blood pressure by a clinically significant average of 4.7 systolic points and 3.2 diastolic points after at least 8 weeks of practice. For more on learning TM, visit www.tm.org.
Check Your Alignment
According to Chicago’s Rush University Hypertension Center, unresolved high blood pressure could be related to a misalignment in the atlas vertebra (C-1), which sits atop your spinal column and bears the weight of the skull. To test this hypothesis, doctors randomly divided 50 patients with high blood pressure into two groups. One group received a single upper cervical chiropractic manipulation of the atlas vertebra, and the other group received a nonsignificant adjustment.
After eight weeks, the patients who received treatment of the atlas vertebra showed a reduction in blood pressure similar to what can be achieved by taking high blood pressure medication. It appears that misalignment of the atlas can potentially interfere with nervous tissue pathways in the brain stem and lead to high blood pressure—an understanding that has been limited to a relatively small number of chiropractors specializing in upper cervical manipulation.
If your high blood pressure is resistant to medication and you’ve tried other alternative therapies without success, a chiropractic evaluation may be in order—especially if you’ve had a past neck injury, whiplash or fall. Even the birthing process can result in neck trauma.
More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Lowering Blood Pressure Naturally
What’s the best diet for high blood pressure? Learn how the Pan-Asian Mediterranean (PAM) approach to eating can help lower your blood pressure.
How does exercise help lower your blood pressure? Find out the many ways that exercise promotes healthy blood pressure and get tips on the most heart-healthy types of exercise.
Which nutritional supplements will help lower your blood pressure? Find out about the core supplements I recommend for everyone with cardiovascular concerns, plus some additional ones specifically for those with high blood pressure.