High pressure low stresser
Contrary to popular belief, recent research indicates that high blood pressure is in fact associated with a lower tendency to worry. It is thought that hypertension has a tranquilizing effect when raised, which then reduces the effect that negative or shocking stimuli can have on people’s emotions.
The research was carried out with 57 women, 36 of who suffered from high worry levels, and 21 low worry levels. Their blood pressure was measured during rest, during a ‘worry period’ (where they were told to worry about the things that they often worry about) and whilst listening to an intense stressful noise.
Results showed that participants with a low tendency to worry had higher blood pressure and vice versa. Interestingly, those with high blood pressure also had greater baroreflex activity, a self-regulating system in the body designed to keep blood pressure at constant levels. The stimulation of the baroreflex system from increased blood pressure is thought to bring people emotional relief.
The researchers believe that this could be indicative of people subconsciously raising their blood pressure as a coping strategy to alleviate tension. Over the course of time, the higher blood pressure then becomes the norm.
The other theory for this unlikely finding is that higher blood pressure may be associated with the release of endorphins, molecules released by the body during times of excitement, love, exercise and also pain. Endorphins are described to have a morphine-like effect, making the person happier and hence less worried.
These findings are in line with previous research that has shown a link between increased blood pressure and lower sensitivity to pain. It appears that chronic pain sufferers develop an even stronger relationship between raised blood pressure and lower pain sensitivity than others, giving them a higher tolerance.
It’s not all good news for those with high blood pressure though; previous research has also shown that this emotional-dampening effect is not limited to negative emotions. Individuals with parental history of hypertension have been shown to have weaker responses to both positive and negative stimuli compared to those with no history of hypertension. Additionally, hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.