The importance of stress management
In today’s fast-paced world filled with increasing demands, stress management is a life skill and a lifesaver. It’s also important to note that while the link between stress and high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is still being studied, stress is known to contribute to risk factors like a poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption.
How stress affects your health
In addition to the emotional discomfort we feel when faced with a stressful situation, our bodies react by releasing stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into the blood. These hormones prepare the body for the “fight or flight” response by making the heart beat faster and constricting blood vessels to get more blood to the core of the body instead of the extremities.
Constriction of blood vessels and increase in heart rate does raise blood pressure, but only temporarily — when the stress reaction goes away, blood pressure returns to its pre-stress level. This is called situational stress, and its effects are generally short-lived and disappear when the stressful event is over.
“Fight or flight” is a valuable response when we are faced with an imminent threat that we can handle by confronting or fleeing. However, our modern world contains many stressful events that we can’t handle with those options. Chronic (constant) stress causes our bodies to go into high gear on and off for days or weeks at a time. The links between chronic stress and blood pressure are not clear and are still being studied.
Stress versus anxiety
Stress is a lifestyle factor and, to a certain extent, a fact of life. Each of us also has a certain level of anxiety. On the other hand, chronic anxiety and anxiety disorders are medically diagnosed conditions, which can be impacted by stress.
Fight stress with healthy habits
Learn to fight stress by making choices like talking with family and friends and making time for physical activity. These habits not only improve your health — they also rejuvenate your general well-being.
Reduce stress by changing your expectationsGive yourself enough time to get things done.
Time management works wonders for reducing stress. Don’t try to pack too much into every moment.
Learn to say “no.” Don’t promise too much.
Reduce the amount of tension by having a shorter list of items that must be done. This may require you to reevaluate priorities and make difficult choices, but everyone must learn to live within manageable limits.
Reduce stress by recognizing where you have controlYou can’t control all the outside events in your life.
However, you can change how you handle them emotionally and psychologically. Try to learn to accept things you can’t change. You don't have to solve all of life’s problems.
Think about problems under your control and make a plan to solve them.
You could talk to your boss about difficulties at work, talk with your neighbor if his dog bothers you or get help when you have too much to do.
Know your stress triggers.
Think ahead about what may upset you. Some things you can avoid. For example, spend less time with people who bother you or avoid driving in rush-hour traffic.
Reduce stress by taking care of your moodRelaxing is important.
Even if you are busy, take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe deeply and think of a peaceful picture.
Spend time developing supportive and nurturing relationships.
We all need supportive and encouraging relationships. Invest yourself in developing relationships that build character and foster growth.
Give yourself the gift of a healthy lifestyle.
Engage in physical activity regularly. Do what you enjoy; walk, swim, ride a bike or jog to get your muscles going. Letting go of the tension in your body will help you feel better.
Relaxing for short periods during your workday, at night and on weekends may help lower your blood pressure. Another great stress-buster is to get regular physical activity.
Reduce stress by practicing gratitude and joyPractice gratitude.
Change how you respond to difficult situations, focusing on the positive, not the negative. Expressing gratitude to others can also boost your level of feeling good about life and reduce stressful thoughts.
Know what brings you pleasure and find ways to enjoy the experience.
Perhaps you enjoy volunteer opportunities or cooking your favorite foods. By taking time not only to participate in these activities but to intentionally enjoy them, you can build a satisfying life rather than hurry through your “relaxing activities” at a stressful pace.
- Download a fact sheet on managing stress.
- Discover 10 healthy habits for fighting stress.
- Learn how humor can help your heart.
This content was last reviewed October 2016.