One Effect of Short Term Stress
A few months ago I didn’t feel like myself. I felt tense, stressed, kind of angry. I experienced some light headedness and disrupted sleep. I suspected that those symptoms might indicate high blood pressure (BP). I checked my BP and no surprise it was high. I had a routine physical coming up in about a month and I felt that I needed to make my best effort to try to understand what was going on. Here’s what I did.
- Began keeping a record of my BP readings to bring to my doctor
- Tried to figure out what was causing my high BP
- Determine if there were any lifestyle adjustments I could make
- Came to terms with the possibility that I might need to have my high BP medically treated
I want to start with number 4 because it provides insight into my mindset. The prospect of having to go on medication to treat my BP is unappealing. Back in 2002, I took lisinopril for 2 weeks and hated it! My doctor had prescribed it to help me cope with the enormous stress I was under due to the death of my mom. Today, 13 years later, I know that I should not ignore a possible diagnosis of high BP regardless of past experience. High BP contributes to heart attacks and strokes which is in my family history. Therefore, better to treat it than to let it degrade my health. I accepted that I might have to take medication to get my BP under control.
OK, back to number 1. I began recording BP readings and putting them into an Excel spreadsheet. I always took a morning and an evening reading. I sometimes took a reading or two in between. I recorded about one month’s worth of readings. I kept track of the averages by time of day so I could present a more insightful analysis to my doctor. Initially, my readings were in the 130s over 90s (sometimes even higher) which is in the pre-hypertension range. I want to avoid getting to an average reading of 150/90. That is the level, according to a report published in 2013 in Journal of the American Medical Association, when people over 60 need BP medication.
On to number 2 – could I figure out what was causing my high BP? I approached the question from two perspectives. First, was my high BP manifesting itself simply due to time catching up with me or was there a short-term catalyst? Over the course of my life, there are certain factors, inherited and self-inflicted, that made the passage of time answer feasible. I next thought about the past few weeks to see if I could come up with anything. There were no changes in lifestyle – diet or exercise. However, I did identify something that was possibly stressing me out. Back in June, I set a goal to write an eBook and release it in October. (I am a proponent of setting goals and objectives.) In my mind I had been procrastinating and therefore thought that setting a deadline would motivate me to write. And I went “public” with this goal in my July Newsletter. Things started out on a positive note. I began to work on an outline and to simultaneously start writing. I felt that I was making progress – until I wasn’t. I found myself rethinking my topic, redoing the outline and rewriting chapters. This was turning out to be much more difficult than I expected. I was not ready. I was frustrated and upset with myself. Since this all happened in June, shortly before I noticed my symptoms, this self-imposed deadline and related short term stress might be contributing to my high BP.
Number 3 – Make lifestyle adjustments leading up to my physical. If my high BP was caused by the passage of time bringing hereditary and lifestyle factors to the forefront, there wasn’t much I could do before my physical. Any changes for the long term would need to be discussed with my doctor. In talking things over with my wife, she helped rest my expectations and path to writing an eBook. She reminded me that I was under no schedule, no commitment and no pressure to write a book let alone have it published in October. I talked about how challenging it is to find my voice, to settle on a subject and to write. She suggested that I should just focus on writing posts for my blog. That would give me practice, experience, confidence, give my readers more value and possibly identify subjects for a book. That made a ton of sense to me so I have officially de-committed to myself (and to anyone else) to publish an eBook in October.
Here’s how things played out. Shortly after I made the decision to postpone working on an eBook, I felt a sense of relief. My associated symptoms dissipated. My blood pressure readings started trending downwards. The averages that I showed to my doctor were 127/87 and she said that my readings were OK (no imminent need to go on BP medication).
From the research I’ve done, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between stress and chronic long term high BP. However, it does appear possible that short term stress can cause a spike in BP. Which is what I believe happened with me.
My lesson learned is that some of the behaviors that worked in the work place, such as setting goals and objectives, can be misapplied in retirement. There’s no need to set stretch goals just for the sake of trying to achieve something. I ended up needlessly stressing myself out. I had to remember that success is whatever I (you) define it to be!
Note: this article is anecdotal. It simply recounts my interpretation of my experience. It is not intended to be prescriptive, illustrative or in any way construed as offering advice or any other recommendation. Anyone with a similar concern or questions should seek professional medical advice.