Do you check your blood pressure tons of times every day, always thinking about that BP monitor, disrupting your concentration at work?
Does even a systolic reading of 152 send you into panic mode, even though you know this reading is the result of all the stress you’re putting yourself through?
Blood Pressure Health Anxiety Is Unique from Anxiety Over Other Medical Issues…
• You can take a reading any time, unlike, for instance, an EKG, cholesterol or PSA test, which requires an appointment with a medical professional.
• Though other forms of health anxiety can be checked any time, such as obsessively inspecting one’s breasts, moles or tongue for twitching, the blood pressure monitor yields an objective result.
• The test is easy; you just wrap the monitor on your arm, press a button and wait.
There are people who will take many blood pressure readings in a row. If they wait too long in between readings, they fear that the building anxiety will taint the next reading.
On the other hand they worry that if the readings are too close together, this too will impede accuracy.
Severe Health Anxiety
I was inspired to write this article after reading posts by a 20-something professional who was obsessed out of his mind with his blood pressure.
It began when at a doctor’s office when he was very nervous, the systolic (top number) came in at 165.
He’d been freaking out ever since. He went on a business trip out of the country, leaving his BP monitor at home, suffering without it.
But he’d suffer with it, too, because on the job, he’d keep taking his blood pressure, disrupting his productivity.
At home he kept taking it. Usually it was in the normal range. He had never been diagnosed with hypertension but couldn’t stop taking the readings.
The initial diastolic was usually in the 140s, maybe an occasional 150s, and it would get lower with each subsequent measurement — taken only minutes apart, ending up in a very desirable range.
Ironically, despite his relentless obsession and lengthy though articulate posts, he never once mentioned the importance of exercise and diet in maintaining healthy blood pressure.
“Well, it is fair to say that individual episodes of anxiety can cause blood pressure to rise, at times significantly, during an episode,” says David D. Clarke, MD, President, Psychophysiologic Disorders Association (stressillness.com), Clinical Assistant Professor of Gastroenterology Emeritus, Oregon Health & Science University, and author of “They Can’t Find Anything Wrong.”
Dr. Clarke specializes in physical symptoms that result from stress.
“It is difficult to know exactly what is happening to the young man , but his behavior raises the possibility of obsessive compulsive disorder or, less likely, health anxiety disorder,” says Dr. Clarke.
“Anxiety about his blood pressure could raise it causing the initial reading to be elevated.
“The act of measuring the BP might then be calming to him when he sees it is not dramatically above normal, causing the pressure to fall to his usual level.
“But without more information this is just speculation. He would be well advised to discuss this with his physician.”
Overcome Blood Pressure Anxiety, Compulsion to Take Continued Readings
Remind yourself that hypertension — if you’re ever diagnosed with it — is extremely treatable with diet, exercise and stress management + other modifiable factors.
When you hear someone say, “I’ve tried exercise and diet but my high blood pressure won’t budge,” realize that their assessment of what would be effective diet and exercise could be quite subjective.
- Crack down on a plant-based diet and keep daily sodium intake under 2,000 mg.
- Eat five to seven servings a day of raw vegetables and fruits (any combination).
- Adopt a strength training and cardio exercise program.
- If you smoke, QUIT.
Take your BP only once a day, when you are most relaxed, never when you have anxiety.
Write down the reading in a special log. When data is written down, you won’t be as inclined to keep taking more readings on that same day.
Remind yourself that blood pressure is a highly fluctuating function. You can’t be continuously taking readings that can be easily influenced by anxiety.
Remind yourself that high blood pressure is highly treatable. This isn’t cancer!
The fitter, faster and stronger your body, the less likely you’ll worry about acquiring an ailment that mostly affects people who do not take proper care of their bodies (even though many think they do).
Focus on THAT number, not the one on your blood pressure machine.
Since 1983 Dr. Clarke has successfully cared for over 7,000 patients with stress illness.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.