Hello, I hope you are having a good week so far. Today we are going to continue our exploration of stress and the body by looking at our blood pressure and the feeling that we are going to faint. I will also introduce you to another stress reducing exercise for you to try out over the week.
The difference between high and low blood pressure
So let’s start by looking at what happens to our blood pressure under stress. We know from last week’s article that that our heart rate increases and blood flows to our limbs when we are stressed. This is our body’s way of preparing us to fight or run from the immediate danger it believes we are in. Please see previous articles for more on the Fight/Flight response. This raises our blood pressure. It returns to normal when our body feels safe – when we are no longer in fight/flight response. Unfortunately stress can trigger the fight/flight response for a long time and so our blood pressure can be raised for prolonged periods. The risk of stress and High Blood Pressure (HBP) or hypertension is still being studied. Unhealthy eating and consuming alcohol, known coping strategies of stress, have been found to increase risk of HBP. This highlights the importance of learning ways to reduce stress that are not known to further negatively impact on our health. Please check out a healthy stress reducing exercise at the end of this article.
Fear of fainting when stressed
We can feel dizzy and lightheaded when we are stressed and mistakenly associate these feelings with fainting. We may think we are going to faint when stressed but this is very rare. Very few people have the ability to faint under stress. The condition called a syncope can result in a faint during the fight/flight response. If you have this condition you will have a history of actual faints by the time you’re in your thirties. Those with a blood phobia can faint when they see blood. This is very different from experiencing stress.
So why is it unlikely we will faint during stress?
Because our blood pressure rises when we are stressed; Fainting is caused by a sudden, significant drop in blood pressure. If our blood pressure drops rapidly our brain may not get enough blood, as it is at the top of our bodies. Our brains need blood because blood carries oxygen and our brains need a constant supply of oxygen. Our brain then signals to faint to protect us by getting our head to the ground (same level as the rest of our body) so the blood supply can return to the brain.
In order to faint during stress, you need to have some other physical circumstance which lowers your blood pressure to such a degree that it overcomes the increase. This could include dehydration, hunger, drug and alcohol use, low blood sugar, prolonged standing.
So hopefully we are identifying two main points here. Firstly fainting is not to be feared – it is a way of our body protecting us and secondly it is extremely difficult to faint during stress.
Healthy Stress Reducing Exercise – Lying down breathing
Please take the time to try and practice this breathing exercise. Find a time and place you won’t be disturbed, put your mobile on silent. If you can set an alarm – maybe start with two minutes and as your continue your practice increase your minutes up to 10 minutes (or longer if you want). Choose a soft sounding alarm that gently alerts you.
Start by lying down on the floor with a cushion for your neck or on your bed or couch. Place your hands one on top of the other gently beneath your rips and above your tummy (this is your diaphragm). Roll your shoulders and find a relaxed comfortable position for them, lowering them from your ears if you noticed they are tensed. Close your eyes. Begin by focusing on your breathing. Start with the simple breathing exercise (you will find in my previous article) breath-ing-in and breath-ing-out. Once you are focused on your breath begin to allow yourself to quieten your words and focus your attention on to the rise and fall of your hands. Continuing to breathe in and out slowly to a rhythm that feels comfortable to you. If you are distracted by any thoughts, its okay, once you notice them return to saying in your mind “breath-ing-in, breath-ing-out” and then again focus on the rise and fall of your hands and diaphragm. Do this as many times as you notice your attention wandering. Once the alarm sounds slowly move your hands down beside your side and move your fingers and toes, then open your eyes and slowly move the rest of your body. Getting up very gently. Sit for a moment before getting up and on with the rest of your day. Thank yourself for taking the time to practice a healthy stress reducing exercise.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on blood pressure and stress. If so please like and share. Next week we will be continuing our exploration of stress and the body with headaches, migraines, blurred vision and ringing ears. Until then have a great week.