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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Blood Pressure and Stress

02/09/2007

Question:

I am a 64 yr. old white female, 120 lbs., 5`2" tall, and I try to walk 3 miles, 4-5 days/wk, and attend a yoga class 1-2 times per week. A couple of years ago my heart rate increased to 90-100 from 70-80. At that time a EKG and stress test were done, and a scan of some sort (echocardiogram), and I was told that results were "normal." The rate gradually settled back to the lower range. During the past 6 months, I have endured much stress, with family responsibility for decision-making coming to me, and the heart rate has been high (90-105), many of my waking hours (BP is typically 105-110/68-75). My family doctor has said that perhaps another EKG and lab tests are needed, but hasn`t written any orders. The constant beat is noticable and a concern. What questions should I ask the doctor? Is this a concern that should be checked by a specialist? What are potential long-term effects of unrelenting stress?

Answer:

Many people have episodes of increased stress in their lives.  It is unlikely you can get rid of many of the external stressors placed on you by others, by situations, by finances, by work, etc.  However, you can find healthy ways to deal with the stress that will decrease its effect on your physical and emotional health.  These include:

Allow plenty of time for sleep, and practice good sleep hygiene.  This means doing things that help promote sleep like going to bed and arising at about the same time most days, not using caffeine 6 hours before bed, not exercising within an hour of bedtime, etc.

Eat healthy meals, with lots of complex carbohydrates (like fruits, veggies, grains) and lower amounts of fat.  Eat regularly -- 4 or 5 smaller meals may help you feel better than 3 larger meals.

Drink plenty of fluids.  No one knows exactly how much that means, but a good rule of thumb is about 6 - 10 glasses of liquid a day.

Exercise regularly.  Find a physical activity that you like, and do it at least 4 or 5 days a week.

Stay social.  Keep in touch with family and friends, and keep your networks of support people with you.

Talk about what is going on, either with your family or friends or with a professional counselor.  Professional counselors can also work with you to find the best stress reduction methods for you.

Find time to do something you enjoy everyday.  It can be short, like listening to some favorite music or reading a favorite book for 20 minutes, or taking part in some activity that lasts for hours or days, but find time to put pleasure in your life (schedule it on your calendar, if you must, but make it a priority!)

Consider stress reduction techniques, like yoga, meditation, relaxation, biofeedback, etc.  There are many options, so find what works best for you.

Will unrelenting stress have long term effects?  Unlikely, but if there are, they are mainly emotional ones.

Good luck.

For more information:

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati