Heart Disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States, and High Blood Pressure is very often a precursor to heart disease.  Yikes!  What does it mean to live with high blood pressure?

As many of you know, I’m in Nursing School and this summer I’m taking Pathophysiology–the physiology of disease.  The class is amazing and I love it.  I wish I could just download the whole book right into my head.  The same thing that makes me bad at winning Scrabble, a love of long beautiful words and not enough love of scoring points, makes me a horrible student.  No I didn’t make many points on that word, but look at it.  Isn’t it a beautiful, luscious word?

My Beloved Pathophysiology Book

My Beloved Pathophysiology Book

I want to know the whole patho book, frontwards and backwards.  I go on tangents, looking up research on conditions and compare it to other conditions I’ve heard of, watching Khan academy videos, and Ted talks.  There just aren’t enough hours to study the way I want to and still do well on the tests.  I find myself continually having to reel it in and focus on the high points that we might be tested on.

I know.  My life is pretty amazing if that’s all I have to complain about.  How awesome that I get to spend all my time geeking out about how incredibly beautiful and complex the human body is. The past couple of weeks we have been studying Cardio Pathologies.  Hypertension is particularly interesting to me since my mom has been learning what it means to live with intermittant high blood pressure.

One in three Americans has hypertension, and more than 2/3 of those older than age 60 are affected,” Understanding Pathophysiology.  Those are some crazy numbers! How to manage your high blood pressure?  Eat more vegetables, exercise regularly, MANAGE YOUR STRESS, don’t smoke, and don’t drink (actually the American heart association says limit alcohol.  But I’m in the camp of, “if it’s not good for us then why are we doing this?”)  I’m not going to focus on the eat more vegetables and stop smoking issues today.  I just want to talk about managing stress.

I don’t understand why the American Heart Association says “stress is not considered a risk factor” for high blood pressure.   Especially since we know that stress, fear, and anxiety cause our body to react with high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), as well as causing the sympathetic nervous system to release epinephrine and norepinephrine–2 powerful vasoconstrictors that cause your heart rate to go up under stress.  Maybe they say that because it is so hard to quantify ‘stress.’  Everybody has a different tolerance for stress.

Think of a stressful situation that you have been in recently.  How did your body feel when you were in the situation?  Were your shoulders tight?  Was your breath short?  Did your whole body feel contracted?  Was your stomach upset?

I lied.  I said I wouldn’t talk about food.  But I found this article about salt intake from the Yale Heart Study and I couldn’t control myself.  Salt is a huge contributor to high blood pressure.  And this article talks about the high salt content of so many of the meals at popular big chain restaurants.  It’s interesting to note that daily recommended intake of 1500mg is easily achieved in one meal at a big chain restaurant like Red Lobster or Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And it’s easy to find meals in the 5,000mg range.  Hmm.  That’s more than the daily recommendation of 3 days combined. But that’s a whole other deal.

What I really want to say is that Relaxing takes practice.  Here in the U.S. we’re not used to relaxing.  It is not something our culture values.  In European cultures it is common to see people on holiday for a couple months at a time.  Vacations are encouraged.  Down time is valued.  Here in the states we feel guilty for taking time off.  We work ridiculously long hours and even when we are off of work at home we are moving 100 miles a minute with activities for our kids and lists upon lists of things to do at home, and most of them don’t include sitting on the porch watching the kids play while sipping lemonade.

My mom has had to learn how to slow down, to listen to her body when it is spiraling out of control.  She has had to learn how to pay attention to repetitive thought patterns that send her blood pressure through the roof.

Things you can do to relieve stress on a daily basis?

  • 5 minute yoga/stretch breaks at your desk (I get a lot of great 10 minute yoga classes at YogaGlo).
  • daily 10 minute meditation before getting your morning tea (YogaGlo can introduce you to meditation too).  And no, you probably shouldn’t do that coffee because it’s a stimulant-trade it for something else warm and yummy like tea.
  • daily 10 minute meditation before going to bed
  • running/walking daily (Run Keeper has a great app to map out your walks/runs, track your miles, and help you with your goals).
  • massage regularly (massage releases endorphins=pain relief, stress relief, yay! love them).
  • Breathing deeply, consciously in your daily activities.  So easy to breathe deeply in traffic, at stop lights, while working at the desk, any time you find yourself holding your breath.
  • Set a timer for a 20 minute siesta when you are experiencing that low energy part of the day.

At the spa we see people on the massage table all the time who are so unaccustomed to relaxing that it takes several sessions before they learn how to be a noodle on the table.

It’s okay.  It takes time.  It’s important.  It gets easier.  You don’t have to feel guilty about taking time for relaxation.

Your body needs you to take time.  Your heart needs you to listen.  It needs you to relax.  It needs you to play.

The people around you who care about you need you to relax.  They need you to play.

Taking time to relax every day could very well save your life. Schedule a massage appointment at I.M. Spa:  479-251-7422

Wendy Finn is the mother of 4 boys, owner of I.M. Spa, a Raw Food Enthusiast and educator, a world traveler in pursuit of superior massage education, a Master Massage Therapist of 20 plus years, a gardener, and a nursing student.  She’s passionate about touching people and sharing health.