Stress and Blood Pressure
What Stress Does to You and
What You Can Do about It
How Barbara Brabec dramatically lowered her blood pressure by identifying the one thing that was causing most of her stress.
First published in 1995;
with 2021 update on stress and the pandemic
I LEARNED AN IMPORTANT LESSON about the connection between stress and high blood pressure when I hit a wall shortly before Christmas, 1995. Until that year began, I’d had normal blood pressure readings all my life, but during this year they suddenly shot up to 160 over 100 and stayed there all year. The doctor said this could be due to overweight, age, or stress, and warned that I might need medication if it continued to rise.
For the previous fourteen years, I’d been publishing a home business newsletter. But after meeting my quarterly and later bimonthly publishing deadlines (which seemed to get closer with each passing issue), I finally admitted to myself that I just couldn’t do it any longer. I suddenly felt that I had to get rid of the newsletter immediately . . . or else.
Without thinking about it further, I picked up the phone, called a publisher friend, and made arrangements for her to take over my subscriber obligations the following spring. After making that decision, I had a restful and stress-free Christmas holiday because I could suddenly see the end of something that had been getting more difficult for me with each passing year.
When I went in for a routine medical checkup the first of February, I was astonished to learn that my blood pressure was 118 over 76, lower than ever before. Since I hadn’t gotten any younger or lost any weight, I knew there could be only one explanation for it: It had to be related to my decision to stop publishing the newsletter. As soon as I made the decision to stop publishing, I felt as though a rock had been lifted from my soul, and my body apparently reacted quickly to the new sense of relief I felt. When I learned of my lower blood pressure reading, I felt as though God had given me a gold star for making the right decision, confirming I was moving in a new direction that was right for me.
In talking to my doctor about my unusual blood pressure experience, he reminded me that while we may not consciously feel stressed by something we’re doing, our subconscious mind feels it nonetheless and our body responds accordingly. As I see it, the more pressured I felt about having to meet yet another deadline for the newsletter, the more my subconscious mind registered this stress. Although I thought I had my stress under control, my blood pressure readings proved otherwise.
If your blood pressure readings have been rising lately, maybe you don’t need medication. Maybe you just need to stop doing that particular thing you wish you didn’t have to do any more. It’s not easy to make a major change in your personal or business life, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do it. As you think about this, consider these words of advice from S. H. Payer in his poem, Live Each Day to the Fullest:
“When you are faced with a decision, make that decision as wisely as possible, then forget it. The moment of absolute certainty never arrives.”
Identifying Life Stressors
TO LOWER THE STRESS in your life, you must first identify those things that stress you most. Make a list, dividing it into two columns: things you do to stress yourself (even though you know better), and stressful things over which you have little or no control.
One thing you can always control, however, is how you react to any stressful situation or person in your life. Will you choose to respond negatively or positively? If you happened to catch Barbara Walter’s 20/20 interview with Christopher Reeve shortly after his accident, you got a great lesson in positive thinking. I doubt there was a dry eye in America that evening as Christopher smiled and said he didn’t know why this thing had happened to him, but there had to be a reason and he was going to find it.
The way Thomas Edison reacted to a terrible tragedy in his life offers another example. In December, 1914 when he was 67 years old, the Edison labs were almost completely destroyed by fire. Lost were some two million dollars’ worth of equipment and the record of almost all of Edison’s life work. His son reported that as he was walking through the charred remains the next day, Edison said:
“There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start all over.”
Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat?
WHERE DAY-TO-DAY STRESS is concerned, I have finally learned that one can be either a thermometer or a thermostat. If you’re a thermometer, you will allow people and life situations to raise your blood pressure and bring your temperature to a boil, needlessly stressing your mind and body time and time again. If you’re a thermostat, however, you will take control and consciously decide not to let certain people or situations cause undue stress in your life.
Take impatience and anger, for example. When your doctor keeps you waiting for an hour, you have the choice of getting angry because he or she has wasted an hour of your precious time. Or, you can anticipate a wait and go with a book or notebook in hand so you can put that time to good use. When you get stuck in traffic, you can either bang the steering wheel in anger and utter words best left unsaid, or accept the situation, take a deep breath, and relax. When you’re in a situation that’s completely out of your control, the only thing you can do is control yourself.
Charles Swindoll, whose Insight for Living radio ministry airs daily worldwide, has a great sense of humor, and I like his definition of stress:
“It’s the confusion created when one’s mind overrides the body’s desire to choke the living daylights out of some jerk who desperately needs it.”
When standing in a long line at a checkout counter, you have the choice of getting angry at the sales clerk for being so slow, or you can make that person’s day by smiling and offering a gentle word as your order is being processed. Just think how tired and stressed sales clerks must be at the end of a day after having to deal with impatient customers all day long. By doing something to ease another person’s stress, you’ll find you’ve automatically eased your own.
In his inspirational book, The Finishing Touch—Becoming God’s Masterpiece, Charles Swindoll offers this insight on how daily conflicts increase our stress:
“A conflict is an emotional collision. It is stress caused by incompatible desires or demands. Conflicts lead to frustration . . . the feeling of being ‘blocked’ or restrained from doing what one wants to do because of something one has to do. As tension builds, the burning fuse gets shorter. Tie all this together in one tight knot, multiply it by a dozen daily encounters of a similar nature, and you have raw, naked anxiety.”
Do you often find yourself rushing about doing errands or trying to finish a job by a certain deadline? If so, ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t get everything done within the time frame you originally envisioned?
Take a tip from someone who used to stress herself to death needlessly and refuses to do it anymore: Give yourself a break and plan to do some of your work the next day, the next week, or the next month. It’s a hard thought to deal with, but if you or I were to die tomorrow, the world would go on without us whether our work was done or not.
“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” – Bertrand Russell
“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” – Comedian George Burns (Burns’ advice carries a lot of weight when you consider that he lived to be 100 years old.)
Stress and the 2020 Pandemic
MY BLOOD PRESSURE has been closely monitored since 1995 when I was first prescribed the lowest does of a generic drug called Atenolol (Tenormin), and my readings are what my doctors want to see. Tenormin was approved by the FDA in 1981 and is one of the oldest (and safest, I was told) beta-blockers, and it has certainly worked for me in spite of all the “ordinary stress” I’ve had since I started my homebased business in 1971 (some of which I documented in my memoir, The Drummer Drives! Everybody Else Rides).
In time I came to understand that it wasn’t only the medicine that was helping my blood pressure remain at desirable levels through the years but the change in my attitude about life. Coincidentally, I happened to reconnect to God in 1995 on a deeper level than ever before and, as my faith grew, I began to see the many ways God was working in my life to help me deal with both my personal and business stress.
As I’ve explained in my Testimony for Christ, “My new faith didn’t magically end my problems. In fact, for several years after being born anew, I had even more problems than I had when life originally brought me to my knees. The difference was that, as a Christian, I could handle them. I suddenly saw the bigger picture and no longer felt alone in my personal and business struggles. What I used to see as problems to moan about simply became ‘life challenges’ I knew I could handle with God’s help. It was at that point that I began to hold on to this promise from God:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
In talking with many friends and acquaintances about how their lives were affected by Covid-19, it was obvious to me that people with a strong faith have fared much better in keeping their stress under control than those with no understanding of where true peace comes from. This verse in the Bible explains it:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philipians 4:6 NIV).
In my discussions with friends during the worst of the pandemic—those with underlying health issues who surely would have died from Covid-19 if they’d gotten it before they were vaccinated—it was very uplifting to hear how their faith had given them the “peace that was guarding their hearts and minds.” It’s not something easily explained to those without faith, but people all over the world know that drawing nearer to God can make all the difference in one’s life.
Finally, some practical tips that will work for everyone. High blood pressure will compromise anyone’s health, especially those with serious medical issues, so controlling it is essential. Perhaps the practical advice in “17 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure” from Healthline.org will encourage you to do all you can do to help yourself.
Suggest you also read this article, “New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension.”
Business Deadlines were Made to be Broken. Are you stressed because your happiness and time with loved ones slipping away as you allow business deadlines or customer demands to dictate how you live your life?
The Many Faces of Stress and Why Women Handle it Better than Men. An experience with forgetfulness taught Barbara a new lesson about how stress can affect our daily activities.
Time & Stress T/C