Even to the layperson, hypertension is constantly associated with stress, anger and prolonged experiences with anxiety. High blood pressure is portrayed in the media, at least to some extent, as a flustered middle management figure, who is constantly aggravated, sweaty, and stressed out about his job and lifestyle. This image has been ingrained into our heads over the decades, to the point where the real factors behind hypertension have gone unnoticed, and are often ignored even by those who are at the highest risk of developing it.
Over the years, studies have shown that there are a series of contributing factors to high blood pressure. This includes some which we can control and some that we cannot. Studies have pegged family history, age, gender and (controversially) race, as uncontrolled contributing factors for high blood pressure, but for many their risk is increased by a series of poor lifestyle choices. These include:
- Poor Diet: including too much salt, alcohol consumption and tobacco use.
- Lack of Exercise: your heart needs just as much physical activity as your muscles. Getting the blood going and the circulatory system working is vital to its proper function.
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Obesity is a major cause of high blood pressure, as the heart and circulatory system needs to work much harder to perform normally.
There could be more than simply these three factors however. Many sources also indicate that stress levels could be a major contributing cause of high blood pressure. Cue the middle aged male boss hyperventilating over a missed deadline. However, on close inspection of the literature, stress, anxiety, anger, and rage, have not been found to be responsible for high blood pressure, even if they are chronically experienced. Approximately 40 percent of cases of hypertension are linked to genetic factors and 40 percent are linked to poor lifestyle choices. This leaves another 20 percent caused by neither. Enter the theory of a mind body connection to hypertension.
The Mind Body Connection to Hypertension
According to Dr. Samuel J. Mann, despite decades of research, a meta-data analysis still fails to show that chronically experienced stress and anxiety result in hypertension. While stressful episodes do raise blood pressure levels momentarily, they do not contribute to long lasting abnormal blood pressure levels. What Dr. Mann has discovered through his own extensive experiences, as well as through a deep understanding of the literature, is that there is a deeper connection between the mind and body, and hypertension.
What does this mean? The mind body connection is related to deeper experiences and emotions than the standard experiences of stress. In his theory, hypertension instead stems from past abuse and psychological trauma that has been repressed. He underlines the fact that although many people suppress these emotions, this is a conscious recognition that the emotions and past experiences are still an issue and the person chooses to suppress these emotions. On the other hand, repressed emotions and experiences are unknown even to the person who has experienced them because he or she doesn’t even know they exist. These repressed emotions no longer cause any long term psychological strife, because the person has managed to, at least mentally, overcome them. However, according to Dr. Mann, this doesn’t mean they do not cause physical repercussions, especially the potential to hypertension.
There is not a large body of research into this area of study, primarily because unfelt emotions are much more difficult to report on than felt emotions. However, Dr. Mann reports that many of his patients who have some of the below characteristics, tend to be more prone to hypertension than those who simply report being stressed.
Mind/Body Caused Symptoms:
- Cool and calm demeanor under most circumstances.
- Emotionally defensive.
- Past history of abuse or emotional trauma.
- Hypertension that does not follow the traditional patterns. This includes, no genetic history, no lifestyle causes, and a form of hypertension that is drug resistant.
Hypertension Treatment Options
According to Dr. Mann there are three main medication types for treatment of hypertension, and each plays a different role depending on cause. In 85 percent of cases, hypertension will respond to one of two drugs, meant to cope with high levels of sodium in the diet or more genetic causes of high blood pressure. However in the remaining 15 percent of cases, they remain resistant to treatment with these drugs. Instead, they seem to respond to treatment with a third variety, which targets the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This is the the system that manages the brain’s influence on blood pressure.
The relationship between the SNS and high blood pressure still remains relatively unknown. However, Dr. Mann believes that in nearly all cases the primary trigger for an overactive SNS is emotion, even repressed emotion. He has found that while the treatment options for SNS are effective in most cases (these include beta-blockers, alpha-blockers, and Central alpha-agonists), they can often be boosted through co-treatment with antianxiety and antidepressant medications.
While traditional pharmaceuticals can often come with many unwanted side effects, and are not the first choice for those who are alternatively minded, we can nevertheless gain some insight into how to naturally treat the mind and body connected hypertension through this research. There are tons of avenue for further study into natural treatment options, including whether or not therapy for past trauma can affect future hypertension. Also, do any natural treatments for depression and anxiety have an effect on high blood pressure? Much more research is needed to fully understand the repercussions of past trauma on physical health, and how treatment of these underlying emotions can offer relief.