To lower anxiety, reduce your BP

Anxiety can increase a person’s blood pressure. When we are intensely worried, our body responds by releasing stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol which increase our heart rate and narrow our blood vessels. These two changes cause our BP to rise. In 2015, researchers suggested that hyper-anxious people were at risk of sudden spikes in BP which could damage the heart, kidneys and
blood vessels.

It was also found that once the anxiety was dealt with, the BP returned to normal. At the same time, since stress seems to be very much a part of today’s times, there were secondary symptoms such as stomach pain, depression, insomnia, inability to make decisions or remember certain things, unexplained tiredness, and a weakened immune system. Some people who binged on snacks and beverages to feel better, also gained weight and had elevated levels of fats in their blood. Many drink too much coffee during the day and too much alcohol in the evening to stave off the dread and despair they feel.


Overcome anxiety

What causes such acute anxiety? One prime cause, it has been found, is being cut off from family and friends. The sense of isolation can be devastating. There are steps that can be taken to stem hyper-anxiety and prevent blood pressure spikes:

~              Keep in touch as often as possible personally, through social media and phone with family and friends. Meeting a loved sibling or a beloved friend is heartwarming and reassuring. Join a group where you get good vibrations, enrol in a gym. Recently, I saw a video of an 83-year-old man working out in a gym. His smile is as wide as his stomach is six-packs flat. It’s wonderful. In addition to the benefits of working out, it’s great to have friends with shared interests with whom you can do high five at every ­achievement. The ­Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for workouts whatever one’s age is, according to WHO, 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercises plus two ­strength-­training exercises a week. Join a group that holds rousing sing-along sessions. Music lifts the heart and the melodies linger long after the session is over.

~              Anxiety can make you forget to take your medicines. Stick reminders at key places — the medicine cabinet, refrigerator, your desk. Use a pill box with the days of the week written on its compartments. Take your medicines with an everyday activity — ­brushing your teeth, at mealtimes. Have a fixed place for medicines. Flip the pill bottle over each time you take your medicine — it’s a visual affirmation that you’ve taken it. Be open to anti-anxiety pills if your doctor feels they are required.

~              If you feel you can’t cope with all your work and responsibilities by yourself, reach out to experts. Delegate wherever is possible to somebody on your team. However, delegation should not add to your stress where you worry if it is being done right! Say no to things you don’t want to do and give less time to activities that aren’t important to you.

~              Breathe consciously. Get enough restful sleep. Both lower anxiety and blood pressure. Eat regular meals containing food that is familiar and comforting.

~              Do things that matter to you. Read a good book that is rich in wisdom. I heartily recommend The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Douglas Abrams. I’ve read it several times. It’s wise, full of insight, humorous and you feel a lightening in body and mind as you read it. Read articles on health. They inspire you to make lifestyle changes and sustain them. At bedtime, listen to Dr Wayne Dyer’s five-minute podcasts. They uplift and soothe at the same time. Speak of good health and spread the word. Write a journal of positivity and gratitude. Make videos on Youtube to inspire others. The more you dabble and draw in health, the more you live a healthy lifestyle. The more you live it, the more you have to share. It’s like building a second spine. You stand taller, stronger.


Lower blood pressure

The American Psychological Association found that having high BP for years can raise people’s anxiety levels about their health. The future becomes fraught with worry. Would long-term hypertension lead to other complications? Would you be able to afford escalating medical costs? So, sometime last year, researchers looked at the issue from the opposite end — would ­lowering BP lower ­anxiety? By November 2022, they had the answer — yes!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention embarked on a new study on ‘neuroticism’or acute anxiety. And they found a link between the diastolic reading and neuroticism. When elevated, the diastolic pressure (the 80 in the 120/80 mmHg reading) had a ‘significant genetic causal effect on neuroticism rates,’ they reported in the magazine General Psychiatry. It meant that those who had a parent or grandparent with hyper-anxiety symptoms, had to be extra careful about their BP and lifestyle. To get an idea of neuroticism, there’s a restlessness apparent in the body where you can’t sit in one place, you can’t focus on a task, you can’t stay still while being x-rayed or undergoing an MRI scan.


Neuroticism is not a disorder

At the same time, experts point out that ‘neuroticism is not a mental health disorder’. It’s just that such people view everything negatively and are prone to overthinking, moodiness, and fear virtually anything — a war, inflation, a friend ignoring their sms — and are often insecure, defensive, edgy. Yet, their sensitivity helps them take more care of their health. Plus, they are great planners as they are always alert to situations possibly going wrong. For after all, everybody wants to be emotionally stable.

The good news is that lowering the BP to a normal range of 130/80-120/80 brings down anxious feelings and the hyper-anxious can feel relatively steady and stable. Fortunately, BP and anxiety can be treated so there’s no worry on that score. There are about 15 medicines to lower BP — from diuretics, calcium channel ­blockers to beta blockers. Some people may need more than one type of medication — say, a combination of beta blockers for hypertension, a ­tranquilliser (which is not a sleeping pill, but calms the mind) and, sometimes, an anti-depressant, according to the symptoms the patient speaks about and exhibits. Some BP lowering medicines also have a diuretic element in them. If your tablet has these, check with your doctor whether you should lower your salt intake or not.


Be fond, not frustrated

Above all, remember, there is nothing to worry about. As the wise doctors say: your biology need not be your destiny. To keep your BP within a healthy range, get your medication and lifestyle factors right — they keep health flowing in your body, mind and life. We should choose fondness over frustration. Frustration leads to anger, despair and feeling isolated. Fondness connects you to your doctor, family, friends, colleagues and situations which makes your mind delight and heart rejoice. Fondness releases feel-good hormones endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin that give a feeling of deep connection. It makes you understand instead of critical. You find yourself in a bigger space and, gradually, you find more good days than negative days and… it’s time for that high five!


The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme


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