Tips for Treating Anxiety and Blood Pressure at the Same Time
Written by JedhaOn June 12, 2018
If you’re wondering if anxiety can cause high blood pressure, the answer is a resounding YES.
Anxiety is caused by the body’s stress response. Stress can either be perceived stress or actual stress, for instance, work stress, relationship stress, postpartum stress, or financial stress.
Regardless of the type of stress, your body reacts in the same way, releasing stress hormones into the blood, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones quicken the heartbeat, constrict blood vessels, and cause blood pressure to rise. The stress response prepares your body for the “fight or flight” mode so you’re ready to face the challenges presented to you.
Under normal circumstances, the changes in heart rate and blood pressure would return back to normal. So the rise in blood pressure from stress or anxiety is considered transient and temporary, in most cases.
However, modern life sees us faced with many stressful events, so in some cases the body can enter a state of chronic stress and anxiety. If this occurs, elevations in blood pressure may be longer lasting.
Whether it is temporary anxiety or chronic anxiety, the good news is you can implement a range of natural strategies to reduce both the anxiety and your blood pressure as well.
Natural ways to lower anxiety and blood pressure
Undergoing any form of surgery is an event where anxiety is likely to arise. One study in patients undergoing knee replacement surgery showed that reiki, a Japanese form of energy healing, significantly reduced anxiety and blood pressure.
Each patient was given a one hour reiki treatment prior to surgery, followed by post surgery treatments at 24, 48, and 72 hours.
The study showed improvements in respiration rate and state of anxiety in patients. Anxiety scores at intake were 39 and reduced to 32 upon discharge.
This reduction in anxiety had a great effect on blood pressure levels.
Systolic blood pressure before the reiki treatments was 143.1 mmHg vs. 115.2 mmHg 48-hours after surgery, a reduction of 27.9 mmHg. Diastolic blood pressure before treatments was 74.3 mmHg vs. 60.4 mmHg 48-hours after surgery, a reduction of 13.9 mmHg.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing your attention in the present moment, while at the same time detaching from negative thoughts, enabling them to pass by without judgment or emotion.
Participants engaging in mindfulness meditation over the course of 4 weeks saw a reduction in anxiety scores from 25.45 to 21.28.
In another study, participants were required to perform mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes daily, over 7 consecutive days. They experienced a reduction in anxiety and a reduction in systolic blood pressure of an average 2.2 mmHg — from just 7 days of meditation practice!
When you receive information about your physiological responses from a mechanical device, you can learn to modify and control your body’s internal responses. Such devices are called ‘biofeedback’ devices.
There are several devices available but the goal of each one is to provide feedback on one or more of the following: muscle activity, brain activity, skin response, skin temperature, heart rate, or breathing.
Our RESPeRATE device is one example of a biofeedback device.
Amazingly, biofeedback devices have been used for centuries to down regulate the sympathetic nervous system, the side of the nervous system that is activated under stress and anxiety.
Modern research also supports the use of biofeedback as well.
People using biofeedback display an average reduction in anxiety scores from 22.69 down to 17.69 — and 5 points is considered a significant reduction. By using biofeedback, people also show a stronger ability to manage stress levels.
Another common situation where people experience anxiety is when taking a visit to the dentist. There’s just something about the thought of those needles, drills, and hands in your mouth that brings up a sense of unease!
In a study of patients with dental anxiety, the RESPeRATE device was used by one group of patients for 15 minutes prior to having a dental injection. In particular, the overall scores for ‘injection experience’ were extremely different between the two groups — 36.2 in the RESPeRATE group and a much higher 53.3 in the control group, indicating they had more negative experiences, while the RESPeRATE group experienced far less anxiety.
The RESPeRATE device has also been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure in several clinical studies.
Aroma foot massages
If you’ve ever enjoyed a relaxing foot massage, it might be time to indulge in a self-administered foot massage on a regular basis.
When researchers got participants to self-administer aroma foot massages, 12 times over a 4 week period (making it twice per week), they found it significantly decreased systolic blood pressure by 1 to 4 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure by approximately 2 mmHg. The massage also decreased their level of anxiety.
The aromatherapy essential oils used were lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, and marjoram, blended with carrier oil. You can purchase premade aroma oils from many outlets, or visit an aromatherapist to make a special blend for you.
To perform the self-massage, first start by giving yourself a relaxing 10-minute footbath. Next put the fragrant aromatherapy oils on your hands and inhale the aromas. Apply the oil on your legs and use long sweeping strokes from your legs down to your toes. And spend some additional time massaging the acupressure points on the soles of your feet.
Engage in the foot massage for about 30 minutes, and once you’re finished, just sit back and relax for 5 minutes before doing anything else.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics are nondigestible fibers found in a range of different food sources, including:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Green peas
- Spring onions
- Dandelion greens
- Fennel bulb
- Pistachio nuts
These prebiotics provide healthy food for probiotics (your gut bacteria) to feed on.
In an animal study, prebiotic foods consumed over several weeks were shown to counteract the stress response. When the animals fed prebiotics encountered a stressful situation, their biological systems didn’t react as dramatically as those lacking the prebiotic nourishment.
The prebiotics also had beneficial effects over their sleep patterns, another area that commonly gets disturbed with stress and anxiety. What this study indicates is that prebiotic foods may provide great assistance for coping with stress and anxiety.
Studies have also linked alterations in gut bacteria to high blood pressure. In particular, the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your digestive tract is critical to your health.
To encourage a healthy balance of gut bacteria you need to eat fiber-rich foods such as non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
You can also consume probiotic-rich foods such as:
As you can see, the above probiotic-rich foods are all fermented food sources. The fermentation process produces the beneficial bacteria.
To help maintain gut microbial balance, another option is taking probiotic supplements on a regular basis.
Whichever option you choose, you can see that there are proven strategies that can help you manage both anxiety and blood pressure at the same time.
You should also be aware that some anxiety medications have the side effect of raising blood pressure, too. If you are taking medications, speak to your physician about side effects and alternative treatment options you’d like to try.
Written by Jedha Dening
Jedha is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site.
She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about the latest research surrounding nutrition and health.
Reviewed by Dr. Cynthia Thaik, M.D.
Dr. Cynthia is a Harvard-trained Los Angeles cardiologist.
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