Blood Pressure and the Autonomic Nervous System

Blood pressure is more than just a vital sign. Blood pressure is a way to monitor the activity of the Autonomic Nervous System.

High blood pressure, or Hypertension, can lead to long term damage of the heart, blood vessels, the brain, the kidneys which can lead to serious illness or even premature death.

Most people don’t realize that blood pressure fluctuates naturally throughout the day. There are times in which the blood pressure should be higher than your baseline, and other times it will be low.

What does this mean?

The blood pressure measurement is a great way to indirectly measure the activity of your Autonomic Nervous System.

Listen to the Podcast on Blood Pressure

The Autonomic Nervous System controls the blood pressure. The two major components of the Autonomic Nervous System are the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System.

Learn about the Autonomic Nervous System in this blog post.

The Sympathetic Nervous System operates during times of stress. The function of the Sympathetic Nervous System is to increase the heart rate, increase circulation to the extremities, and prepare the body to go into survival mode.

During and after exercise, or after physical exertion, the blood pressure should go up. The problem becomes if the blood pressure fails to go down during times of rest and recovery.

What’s raising your blood pressure?

Healthy blood pressures are usually around 120 (systolic) over 70 (diastolic). Many people have a blood pressure that is lower than this.

Autonomic Nervous System Imbalance and Hypertension

When the blood pressure is higher than 120/70 persistently, this may be a diagnosis of high blood pressure, and is also an indication that they Sympathetic Nervous System is overactive.

An overactive Sympathetic Nervous system is a sign of too much stress. Beyond high blood pressure, an overactive Sympathetic Nervous System leads to elevated stress hormones, reduced effectiveness of the immune system, and increased risk of cancer.

The Sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” response. This is a necessary systemic response to environmental stressors that could represent a threat to safety. The “fight of flight” response is meant to be a short lived reaction to stress. Chronic “fight of flight” response leads to elevated production of stress hormones that can also be seen in depression or anxiety.

Indeed scientific studies have shown that being in a state of hyperarousal (from overactivity of the Sympathetic nervous system) can lead to significant elevations of norepinephrine.1

Mindful Approach to Managing Blood Pressure

Ways to Manage Your Blood Pressure with Lifestyle
  • Diet:  My “quick and dirty” nutrition advise to reduce blood pressure.
  • Sleep: getting enough, improving the quality of sleep
  • Exercise:  How to keep it simple to get moving
  • Relationships: Really? yes, learn to observe how you show up in your relationships.

Putting It All Together

Your blood pressure is a quick and easy tool to understand what’s going on with your Autonomic Nervous System. The Autonomic Nervous System is the operating system of your mind and body. Developing awareness of this through monitoring your blood pressure is a powerful healing technique to understanding your mind and body.

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  1. Bergantin L. B. (2020). Depression Rises the Risk of Hypertension Incidence: Discussing the Link through the Ca2+/cAMP Signalling. Current hypertension reviews16(1), 73–78.

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