Emotional stress is bad for blood pressure

11 October 2002

Got your knickers in a knot about something your partner did last night? Well try not to dwell on it, as just thinking about it could lead to high blood pressure (BP) and later health problems.

Emotional situations such as arguing with a spouse are associated with longer BP recovery times than non-emotional ones, and can lead to sustained and recurring BP elevations, US researchers wrote Psychosomatic Medicine (2002; 64: 714-26).

'Exposure to emotional stress may be of greater potential harm to cardiovascular health than stresses that lack emotion, even though both types of stress may have provoked the same initial responses,' lead author Professor Laura Glynn said.

'Preventing the damaging effects of stress may involve not only reducing exposure to stressors, but also reducing opportunities to ruminate over past stress.'

The study involved more than 70 university students with normal blood pressure. Students who were asked to count backwards while being harassed or trying to avoid an electric shock (activities with emotional components) recorded delayed BP recovery and higher systolic BP during later rumination than did participants asked to perform activities without emotion.

Participants who were distracted during recovery also recorded better BP recovery than people who sat quietly.

'Developing ways to intervene with rumination behaviour and encouraging social support for these individuals may help prevent emotional stress from contributing to heart disease later,' Professor Glynn said.


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