Guilt and blood pressure – feeling down when your BP is up

You got your lab results back from your clinic and you’re not as healthy as you thought you were. Your blood pressure has not come down and your cholesterol remains high.So you sit in front of the computer screen, feeling helpless and not sure how to move forward. Maybe you’ve already attempted some of the "go to" recommendations — reduce salt, walk 10,000 steps/day, cut smoking — but nothing sticks for very long.  Maybe your spouse writes "healthy reminders" on the refrigerator door — still no real impact.So you ask yourself what you are doing wrong? What could you have done better in the past? Should you eat salmon and quinoa twice a week like you read in the health magazines? Should you give up your gaming console that keeps your butt glued to the couch?  You ask yourself all of these questions, but all they do is lead you to feel guilty about the state of your health. And the guilt sucks.

Is it your fault you have risk of heart disease?

Like many painful emotions, guilt can actually be important to our well-being. It's a way of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own (or others) values and standards. As a short term emotion, it can be adaptive and induce positive change.  However feeling guilty all the time – chronic guilt - is not productive and can lead to chronic stress. Anything that stresses your body over a long period of time will increase your blood pressure. In other words, if you have problems with your heart health – blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes - those problems are only magnified when you constantly feel guilty about them.[caption id="attachment_1107" align="alignnone" width="465"]

Guilt is a heavy burden that can worsen hypertension

Chronic guilt can lead to chronic stress, which can cause hypertension[/caption]I would argue that, given the stresses of today's society,  modern advertising and family heredity,  it really isn't your fault if you are at risk of heart disease.  The outside factors can be impossible to control.  The only fault would be if you allow your guilt to get out of control and don’t use the tools that make it easy to take control of your health.So how do you cut the guilt? We offer some insights and tips to help you and for you to help yourself.

Guilt affects us both mentally and physically

First, understand that guilt just pervades our mental space. Guilt dampens our self-confidence and prevents us from doing the things that we want to do. Chronic guilt can lead to anxiety, and anxiety itself can cause a lot of stress-related health issues in the long term.Your negative emotions trickle into the physiological function of the human body and sometimes physical symptoms manifest to match these negative emotions. These can include ulcers and headaches, among other physical symptoms that may not seem related at all.

Chronic guilt is bad for heart health

Importantly, guilt has also been shown to increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that triggers your body’s “fight or flight” response. Although cortisol is great when we’re fighting off a potential threat, constant exposure to cortisol can increase blood pressure and your risk of heart disease, diabetes, lowered immunity, and other long-term conditions.Regardless of how guilt displays itself in your physical health, over time these symptoms from negative emotions can become chronic and impact the longer trajectory of your health.

Blood pressure is a good indicator of your stress levels

Blood pressure is one the first things that changes when we become stressed. As mentioned above, various stress hormones like cortisol can increase blood pressure. This happens practically immediately after stress is experienced.When someone is in continual stress, continual release of stress hormones keep blood pressure higher than normal, which is not healthy for either our mind or our bodies. This makes any pre-existing hypertension even worse.It’s all a vicious cycle, and it’s up to you to break it!

First step to becoming healthy – stop the internal guilt trip

Whether you’ve already begun the journey to self-care or just starting to read about it online in this article, just remember to give yourself the time and the space that you need to manage stress.This is unique to everyone. Some people find that doing yoga or exercising helps them, and others would prefer getting a massage or traveling to scenic spots to watch the sunset. Whatever it is that improves your mood and lifts your spirits, do that. Support yourself and your desire to take charge again.[caption id="attachment_1104" align="alignnone" width="465"]

Do something spirit lifting to reduce guilt and stress

Letting go of guilt will free you from anxiety, boost confidence and lower your blood pressure[/caption]Know that you’re not alone in this process. In fact, your personal health care app can be found right on your own phone (or your Apple Watch).Since blood pressure is one of the simplest ways to keep track of your health, the Hello Heart team developed a versatile and easy-to-use app to keep track of your blood pressure (iOS, Android). We want to support you in your initiative of the healing process and we hope that you’ll take full advantage.Hello Heart is your free personal health care app that can help you find your balance at your own pace.Take it one step at a time. Download the Hello Heart app (iOS, Android) today and reclaim your full potential! You shouldn’t feel any guilt about where you’re at right now – the only fault you’ll have is from missing out on using the tools that you have at your fingertips right now.

Hello Heart is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. You should always consult with your doctor about your individual care.

1. Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, Accessed October 19, 2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. See additional important study limitations in the publication. This study showed that 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163 were able to reduce their blood pressure by 21 mmHg using the Hello Heart program.) (2) Livongo Health, Inc. Form S-1 Registration Statement. https:/ Published June 28, 2019. Accessed October 19, 2022. (In a pilot study that lasted six weeks, individuals starting with a blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mmHg, on average, had a 10 mmHG reduction.) NOTE: This comparison is not based on a head-to-head study, and the difference in results may be due in part to different study protocols.
2. Validation Institute. 2021 Validation Report (Valid Through October 2022). Final.pdf. Published October 2021. Accessed October 19, 2022. (This analysis was commissioned by Hello Heart, which provided a summary report of self-fundedemployer client medical claims data for 203 Hello Heart users and 200 non-users from 2017-2020. Findings have not been subjected to peer review.)