Blood pressure modulates a person’s tendency to worry and can be associated with a “tranquilising” effect when elevated. This is indicated in a new study, led by Spanish researchers, that reflects how we can implicitly learn to increase our blood pressure as a way of alleviating tension and emotional unease.
Two physiological mechanisms could explain blood pressure’s inhibitory effect on pain and negative emotions. / Fotolia
“To be worried is to be intelligent, although passively. Only fools are carefree.” Without entering into an evaluation of this quote by the German poet and dramatist, Goethe (1749-1832), a recent study points to a new consequence of blood pressure.
The study, led by researchers from the University of Jaén and the University of Granada, points out that our predisposition to worry is linked with blood pressure and baroreceptor reflex sensitivity, fundamental in the stabilisation of blood pressure and activated by receptors located in the aortic and carotid arteries.
Previous studies already indicated that when blood pressure increases or is high, pain perception, musculoskeletal somatic complaints and response intensity to negative emotional stimuli decrease.
“Two physiological mechanisms could explain blood pressure’s inhibitory effect on pain and negative emotions: endogenous opiates and baroreceptor reflex stimulation,” Gustavo A. Reyes del Paso, main author of the new research and scientist at the Andalusian institute, explained to SINC.
57 women – 36 with high and 21 with low worry levels – selected from the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, which evaluated their general apprehension tendency, participated in this study, published in the journal ‘Biological Psychology’.
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure and baroreceptor reflex sensitivity at rest, during a self-induced period of worry and during the evocation of a defensive reflex by intense auditory stimulation (in order to produce a negative emotional reaction) were measured.
In contrast to possible beliefs, the results showed that low-worry participants had higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure and greater baroreceptor reflex sensitivity at rest and during the worry period than high-worry participants.
“Moreover, during the defence reflex evocation, blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) increased by a greater degree in low-worry participants than in those with a high tendency to worry,” added Reyes.
‘Protective’ blood pressure
These results show that low-worry tendency is associated with higher blood pressure and greater baroreceptor reflex efficiency, whereas increased worrying is linked to lower blood pressure.
The results also reveal that increases in blood pressure during unpleasant stimulation activated the baroreceptors, producing an inhibitory effect on the brain which reduces negative emotional states.
“This emotional relief mechanism generated by baroreceptor reflex stimulation from increases in blood pressure could explain some essential or primary cases of hypertension that arise without a known cause,” concluded the expert. “An individual can implicitly learn to increase their blood pressure as a way of alleviating tension and emotional unease”.
Despite high blood pressure’s ‘protecting’ effect from worry and negative emotional states, the authors highlight that hypertension is the main risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and “although it can have secondary benefits, it must be fought”.
Luis Carlos Delgadoa, Jaime Vilab, Gustavo A. Reyes del Paso. “Proneness to worry is negatively associated with blood pressure andbaroreflex sensitivity: Further evidence of the blood pressureemotional dampening hypothesis”. Biological Psychology 96 (2014) 20– 27.
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