3 Reasons to Keep a Blood Pressure Diary
At your last doctor’s office visit, the nurse unwraps the cuff from your arm and writes down the reading in your chart. You find it odd that she does not say “great blood pressure” like she has so many times in the past, but you shrug it off. Your doctor walks into the room about 5 minutes later and picks up your chart. He looks over at you and says, “How are you feeling lately?” You answer quickly with a “Great, Doc. I’m feeling great.” He continues with, “Well, your BP is way up there. Are you in pain?”
And the saga begins. Out of nowhere, you went from having perfect 120/80 blood pressure, to now being diagnosed as hypertensive. Your doctor continues down a line of questioning with you:
Q: What is your salt intake like?
Q: How are you sleeping at night?
Q: What are you stress levels like at work these days?
Q: Are you consistently exercising?
As he asks you these questions, you are starting to feel a little bit more on edge. In fact, you can feel your blood pressure going even higher as you answer them. Your ears start to feel hot and your face flushes. Then you look at your doctor with a concerned look and say, “Am I going to be alright?”
He laughs and says “Of course you are, but we have to start monitoring your BP more closely going forward. If it stays persistently elevated, that is when issues will start to occur.”
The fact of the matter is that hypertension is no joking matter. They call it the “silent killer” for a reason and it is a contributing factor to the leading cause of death around the world – heart disease. The problem with blood pressure is that it is supposed to fluctuate throughout the day. Your systolic is known to jump by 15 to 30 points when your nervous, if you have not slept well, or if your cold. Caffeine intake has also been known to boost your blood pressure readings.
But what if you are doing “everything right” (or so you think) according to your doctor’s recommendations and you are still getting readings of 145/90 at the office and at home? Could it be that your blood pressure cuff is too small? Or maybe you do not realize the sheer amount of salt that you are consuming on a day-to-day basis. Most Americans unknowingly consume over 3 grams of sodium daily. Take for example that “healthy” Power Breakfast sandwich that you get with your large morning coffee at Dunkin Donuts every morning. Have you ever taken the time to look at the nutritional content of that sandwich? It contains over 1,500mg of sodium! Unless your logging 6 miles on the treadmill and sweating profusely beforehand, you do not need that much sodium circulating in your blood stream. Over time, this will drive your blood pressure readings higher and higher.
And what about stress? Most Americans admit to chronic workplace stress. Add the global panic caused by the coronavirus pandemic, along with home schooling your 5 and 2-year-old – and your blood pressure is bound to be in the unhealthy range, all day long. Can we avoid our responsibilities in life? Are we supposed to live under a rock, or escape to the mountains and meditate all day like monks? That would be ideal for our blood pressure, but the reality of the matter is that we have responsibilities here on Earth.
Let’s explore the benefits of maintaining a blood pressure diary with JournalOwl.
1. Averaging your blood pressure gives you a truer picture. It is easy to get alarmed when you take your blood pressure at 10am after 3 cups of coffee and see it at 145/90. Yikes! You start thinking that you might really have a problem. But then you take a moment to breathe and realize that you just slammed 3 cups of coffee over the last hour and rushed to get your kids to school. Meanwhile, you already answered 7 emails in a frenzy at your laptop and cannot help but think about that meeting your boss randomly scheduled at 1pm. Stress.
Not to fear! A single high BP reading is not a reason to panic. If you’re taking your blood pressure 10x a day, chances are that you’ll see high BP readings at least 3 or 4 of those times, especially if you take it after you eat, after an argument with your spouse, after coffee, after you climb a flight of stairs, while you’re talking, at your desk, and the list goes on. You get the gist, right? It is important to take your blood pressure at a consistent time each day, then average it out over the week. That will give you a truer picture as to whether you have persistently elevated blood pressure. And, remember, persistently elevated blood pressure is where you can get yourself into trouble over the long-term.
Keeping a blood pressure diary allows you to jot down the readings, then take an average at the end of the week. It also allows you to mark down other factors that might have led to that elevated blood pressure reading. For instance, are you crammed into a house with everyone because of the nationwide stay-at-home orders? Is your stress level through the roof? If so, your blood pressure might very well be elevated due to situational (external) factors. You may not have a true blood pressure problem, but rather circumstantial issues in your life that are causing persistently elevated blood pressure. Once your circumstances revert to a more balanced state, your blood pressure could very well even back out.
Tracking not only your numbers, but also the circumstantial factors in a blood pressure diary can help you identify what is likely causing elevated readings. Knowing that you have factors working against you can help give you a sense of control. Sounds paradoxical, right? But if you feel that you have some control in changing these circumstantial factors, then it brings a sense of calm to your mind. Or if you know that the circumstances are temporary, you can just gut it out for awhile until your life returns to a more normal state.
2. Undealt with negative emotions can wreak havoc on you blood pressure. Men are notorious for suppressing their emotions. Instead of letting it out with a “good cry” – men tend to bottle it up, or deal with negative emotions in other ways, such as burying themselves in work. Sometimes distractions can help deal with negative emotions in the short-term, but the long-term impact of undealt with negative emotions may possibly includes higher blood pressure, anxiety, and even depression. Therefore, it is important for both men and women, equally, to address their negative emotions from an early age throughout life.
Expressive writing, through journaling, can help everyone deal positively with negative emotions. As you log your BP readings in your blood pressure diary, why not supplement that log with a few sentences about what you are grateful for today? Keeping a gratitude journal helps you turn negative into positive. Although a circumstance in your life may seem overwhelmingly negative, there is always a silver lining to a situation. Take for example the worldwide global coronavirus pandemic. Many people are quarantined at home without work, without income, and living in constant fear of contracting COVID-19. The silver lining to the stay-at-home orders may very well be the opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones. Instead of complaining about the lack of financial resources flowing into your bank account, why not pull out the Monopoly board game this evening and be grateful to spend face-to-face time with your family? Turn off social media, turn off CNN, turn off FOX, and focus on the quality time you have with your family. Not interested in a board game? That’s fine. You can take this much needed down time to plant that garden you have been talking about for years.
Darkness cannot live where there is gratitude. You would be amazed at the impact changing your mentality has on your average blood pressure readings. Sure, you’ll still have spikes from time-to-time during high stress events and depending on when you take your BP throughout the day but embracing a mentality of gratitude helps keep you in a calmer state overall. Diving deep into what you are thankful for everyday in your gratitude journal can help you internalize these feelings so that it is not a fleeting trend or flavor of the week. Make it part of your everyday routine so that its second nature to focus on the positive, rather than the negative.
3. Understanding cause-and-effect with food intake & blood pressure is critical. It is easy to go about your day without giving much thought to the types of foods or drink you consume and their short-term and long-term impact on your health. For instance, you may feel the jolt of energy that hits you after a strong cup of coffee, but you can’t necessarily feel a transient increase in your blood pressure after consumption. And that’s fine, you are not supposed to feel every physiological change in your body – especially the temporary rise and fall of your blood pressure throughout the day. These blood pressure changes are completely normal and well documented. As discussed above, it is the persistent elevation of blood pressure that has been researched to cause long-term issues to a variety of bodily systems, including kidneys, heart, and brain. Therefore, understanding your average BP is imperative.
But if you are consistently eating fast food, fried chicken wings, and live a stressed to the max lifestyle – the combination of factors will inevitably cause problems. But it is not just the “well known” types of foods that drive blood pressure up. Sure, we know that chicken wings are very high in saturated fat, plus the sauces on them are usually loaded with sodium. Probably not your best meal choice if you’re trying to avoid health problems. And we also know that fast food is sodium-laden and generally unhealthy. These are no-brainers and have been well researched and documented. But what about the other “healthy” foods marketed by mainstream media.
For instance, we have all heard that dark chocolate is good for you, along with Green Tea. Both dark chocolate and green tea can have a positive impact on your health, but they can also cause problems in some people. The point is that nobody’s body chemistry is the same. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and both dark chocolate and green tea contain caffeine. A dark chocolate candy bar washed down with 2 cups of green tea may be just what the doctor ordered for one individual, but send the other individual’s systolic blood pressure soaring by 20 points over the next 5 hours (until the caffeine starts to metabolize and the blood pressure comes down). Without monitoring your blood pressure while cross-referencing it to the foods you’re consuming, its difficult to connect the dots especially when everyone is telling you that green tea is excellent for your health.
Maintaining a blood pressure diary is an excellent way to understand the cause-and-effect relationship of how dietary patterns impact your average blood pressure readings. By making a few tweaks to your daily caffeine consumption, along with cutting back on fast food (as an example), you could potentially bring your blood pressure back into pre-hypertension ranges. By combining a blood pressure diary with a food journal, you can quickly identify cause-and-effect across a broad spectrum of food groups.
Armed with this knowledge, you can adjust your lifestyle and mitigate risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure. And remember, not everyone’s body reacts the same to different food groups. It is important to analyze how your body reacts with a blood pressure and food journal. You can use JournalOwl, for free, to track your progress on both fronts.
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