Although my personality is slightly Type A, always striving to do my best and getting impatient when I feel like I don’t have control, I had never had any health issues because of it—that is, until I became self-employed. Within a year and a half of leaving my job with county government and trekking out on my own as a freelance writer, I found myself sitting in the doctor’s office because my blood pressure was inching toward the danger zone.
Admittedly, at that same time there were a lot of other things going on as well, but I knew that my drive and desire to do my best career-wise was a little unhealthy. Okay, a lot unhealthy. I also didn’t want to settle for less than what I knew I could achieve, even though it was affecting my health. As it turns out, I am not the only one in this predicament.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in three adults struggle with high blood pressure. Worse yet, of those, only just over half (52%) actually have it under control, contributing to almost 1,000 deaths daily. Certainly, not all of these are related to work-stress, but that still doesn’t change the fact that this makes getting these numbers lower important not only to quality of life, but to life in general.
That day, I walked out of my appointment with a prescription in hand. I even went and filled it. But I also knew that taking it meant that I would likely be on it forever. So, my goal was to first see if I could lower my blood pressure myself. (As a side note, I checked with my doctor to make sure I could do this without causing myself more harm, and he agreed to give me a little bit of time. I would never advise not taking medications against doctor’s orders, especially if your life depended on them.)
Fortunately, the changes I made worked and my blood pressure is now back down to my pre self-employment days. What did I do to get my health back under control without giving up my dreams and returning to work for someone else? I simply followed the Mayo Clinic’s advice, which can be summarized as follows:
Eat Healthier Foods
If stress regularly sends you in search of sweets and salty treats, or a quick trip to your favorite fast food joint, then your blood pressure likely shows it. Not only does a higher weight contribute to a higher blood pressure reading, but sodium is also a major culprit, which makes eating healthier foods necessary to getting it under control.
Focus on getting a lot of lean proteins in your diet to fuel your energy and keep your hunger under control. Also, add more vegetables so that you get enough nutrients and fiber, and use fruit as a sweet treat instead of relying on cakes, cookies, and other desserts.
Spending a lot of time sitting at your desk or stuck in meetings can definitely take its toll on your body, beyond just affecting your blood pressure. In fact, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that living a sedentary lifestyle also contributes to coronary heart disease, cancer, depression, and anxiety.
Ideally, you want to create an exercise program that involves at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. However, any movement at all is better than none so, at a minimum, add extra activity in your day by taking walks around the block during breaks, pacing while on the phone, taking the long route to the coffee pot or bathroom, and even doing bicep curls while watching a webinar. Every little bit counts.
Slow Down on the Alcohol
Research has found that 1-2 drinks daily can actually be beneficial to your blood pressure, but any more than that can ultimately do harm. Also, if you’re not already a regular drinker, this isn’t the best way to lower your blood pressure, so you’re better off concentrating on other options rather than developing a drinking pattern. However, if you enjoy your nightly glasses of wine, liquor, or beer already, then keeping it under control can help you do the same to your blood pressure.
Although it may seem as if smoking relaxes you, it actually raises your blood pressure, so quitting can help you get your numbers down, potentially to the point where you don’t need to rely on medication. It certainly isn’t easy to quit, but it also isn’t easy to die of cancer or a heart attack or stroke either. If you are ready and want some help, SmokeFree.gov offers some valuable resources that may help make this the last time you have to quit.
Lower Your Stress
This, honestly, was the biggest factor for me, so this is the one that I worked the most with. After all, when your success or failure rests solely on your own shoulders, how can it not get to you from time to time?
I knew I didn’t want to take meds the rest of my life, so I began attacking my stress a number of ways. Some of the ones that have worked best for me, ones that I still use today, include taking deep breaths when I feel my stress rise, consciously relaxing my shoulders throughout the course of the day, having faith that it will all work out as long as I keep taking positive steps in the right direction, venting to family and friends when I feel overwhelmed, and reminding myself that if I don’t do these things I am putting my health in jeopardy and nothing is worth that.
If you own your own business and find that it is raising your blood pressure, try these things in an effort to bring it down. Certainly, sometimes medication is the best or only option, but lifestyle choices matter too, which is good because it means that you can largely control your health simply by living healthfully—even if you can’t control everything else.