Lower Your Blood Pressure Week 4: Get Centered

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Blood Pressure
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

It’s the final week of my four-week challenge to begin lowering your blood pressure. So far we’ve talked about how good cardiovascular nutrition, exercise, and nutritional supplementation will help you get results. But there’s one more key to healthy blood pressure that I want to talk about, and it’s something we can all benefit from—reducing stress.

In this day and age, stress is unavoidable. And to be honest, some amount of stress is good for you. It’s motivating and it helps you get things done. The problem arises when you’re stressed out all the time.

Chronic emotional and mental stress causes a sustained increase in activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which is the part of your nervous system associated with the fight-or-flight response. When it’s activated, it floods the body with stress chemicals that, among other things, increase heart rate, blood flow, and blood pressure. So, if you’re looking for natural ways to lower blood pressure, managing your stress level is a good place to focus some energy.

There are a lot of ways to relax and let go of stress (and lower blood pressure), and below I’ve listed some of the techniques that work best for my patients. I’ve divided them into two categories: those best for defusing short-term stress, such as an argument, and those best for coping with the kind of long-term stress caused by strained relationships, financial worries, or illness.

Options for Managing Short-Term Stress

1) Visualize good times. When stressed, concentrate on a past moment of intense joy. Like the other muscles in your body, your heart has a memory, and it’s particularly adept at retaining emotional memories. So, when faced with a stressful moment, visualize a time you felt extremely happy. Then put yourself back in that moment—feel it, smell it, taste it, and live it all over again. The upshot of re-living positive emotions is that you cancel out the negative ones by redirecting your focus away from the stressful situation.

2) Ask yourself, “Is this worth dying for?”

3) Say “no.” Accommodating others is a wonderful trait; however, we can easily become overwhelmed and fatigued in the process. Say “no” when confronted by a request you think will be too stressful or time-consuming.

4) Don’t bottle up emotions. Whether you feel joy, sadness, shame, or anger, allow yourself to experience them. When the feeling subsides, let it go. Repressed emotions can wreak havoc on the body.

Options for Managing Long-Term Stress

1) Recognize your degree of control over a situation. As much as we hate it, there are some things that we just can’t do anything about. In those situations, you have to accept your circumstances and resist the urge to wish they were different. For situations in which you have some limited control, do what you can to make them tolerable. For example, if you have a long commute to work, you might use your time in the car to listen to an engaging radio talk show, your favorite music, or an audiobook.

2) Get proper rest. When you’re fatigued, it’s easy to become stressed. Be sure to get adequate sleep every night, and take a day off when you feel like you need a break.

3) Put more laughter into your life. In a study with cardiac patients, individuals who watched a comedy show on a daily basis had significantly lower stress hormone levels and blood pressure readings, and they needed less medication. Everyday, find something to laugh at—and then indulge yourself!

4) Meditate. Transcendental Meditation 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 reduced blood pressure by an average of 4.7 systolic points and 3.2 diastolic points after at least 8 weeks of practice. Set aside 20 minutes each day to quiet your mind.

5) Practice relaxation therapies like yoga and T’ai Chi. When practiced on a long-term basis, these relaxation therapies can help control high blood pressure and other heart risk factors. Practice one of them every day for 20 minutes.

6) Walk barefoot on the earth. It reduces stress and balances the autonomic nervous system, which works in conjunction with your sympathetic nervous system.

Because of the significant and wide-ranging effects that stress has on the cardiovascular system, using these tools will not only help you lower blood pressure, but also prevent heart attack and stroke. Good luck with them. And let me know in a few weeks how your blood pressure has improved.

For more information on lowering blood pressure naturally, visit www.drsinatra.com

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