Stressed? Think about your partner: Keeping your lover in your thoughts helps keep your blood pressure under control
- More than 100 volunteers put their feet in chilly water to trigger ‘internal stress’
- Those who imagined their other halves had less of a rise in their blood pressure
- Could be a coping strategy during an exam or before an operation
When facing a stressful situation, just thinking about your other half helps stop your blood pressure running high, a study suggests.
Researchers asked more than a 100 volunteers to put their feet in chilly water, in order to trigger ‘internal stress’.
They found that imaging their loved ones was enough to prevent temporary hypertension.
The researchers hope simply reflecting on your other half may help people cope when it all gets too much, such as during an exam or before an operation.
When stressed, thinking about your other half stops your blood pressure running high (stock)
The research was carried out by the University of Arizona (UA) and led by psychology doctoral student Kyle Bourassa.
‘Life is full of stress and one critical way we can manage this stress is through our relationships – either with our partner directly or by calling on a mental image of that person,’ Mr Bourassa said.
‘There are many situations, including at work, with school exams or even during medical procedures, where we would benefit from limiting our degree of blood pressure reactivity.
‘These findings suggest a relational approach to doing so can be quite powerful.’
Nearly half of adults in the US – 103million – have high blood pressure, which puts them at risk of heart disease and stroke, statistics from the charity Heart reveal.
And one in four adults in the UK – 12.5million people – had hypertension in 2015, according to Government data.
The NHS defines high blood pressure as a reading of 140/90mmHg or above, with the ideal being between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.
To test how our other half influences our risk of hypertension, the researchers analysed 102 volunteers in committed relationships while they completed the cold pressor task.
This involved the participants placing a foot in cold water ranging from 3.3°C (38°F) to 4.4°C (40°F) for around a minute.
Cold water causes nerves to trigger a reaction that makes blood vessels narrow, leading to temporary hypertension and a fast heart rate.
During the task, the volunteers were randomly assigned to either have their partners present, think about their other halves or simply reflect on a typical day in their lives.
Results revealed those who had their partners present – or even just thought about them – had lower blood pressure than the volunteers who mused on their day-to-day lives.
And those with ‘relationship satisfaction’ benefited most.
These findings may explain why people in happy relationships are often healthier than their miserable counterparts or singletons, Mr Bourassa said.
‘This suggests that one way being in a romantic relationship might support people’s health is through allowing people to better cope with stress and lower levels of cardiovascular reactivity to stress across the day,’ he said.
‘And it appears that thinking of your partner as a source of support can be just as powerful as actually having them present.’
Results further revealed the volunteers who had their loved ones by their side also felt less pain while in the chilly water.
But heart rates did not differ between the participants.
The volunteers were undergraduates at the UA. The researchers hope future studies will look at members of the public of varying ages.
If the same results occur, these trials could lead to therapies that help people cope with day-to-day stress, they add.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF I HAVE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many won’t realise it.
The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.
Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.
The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They’re both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
As a general guide:
- high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
- ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
- low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
- A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.
If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.
Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- heart attacks
- heart failure
- peripheral arterial disease
- aortic aneurysms
- kidney disease
- vascular dementia