The Pressure Is On

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It was just another one of those routine medical checkups. The kind I would just as soon avoid. I have enough going on I really do not need another appointment on my agenda, but I agree to make these albeit begrudgingly. So here I sat on the end of the exam table that is too short to lie down on unless a medically trained professional pulls out that silly extension for my feet. I peruse a two year old copy of Car and Driver while I wait in the bleak solitude. Soon a 20 something nurse pops in the room that seems just a little too happy for a doctor's office and begins the inane battery of questions. How are you feeling today? Are you getting plenty of rest?  Exercise? I can hear Charlie Brown's teacher, "waa waa waa". She takes my blood pressure which has always been a textbook example of 120/80, but apparently not today. She deflates the cuff, furrows her brows, and seems to suddenly lose her effervescence. "I'm going to try this again", she says. As a former volunteer firefighter/EMT, I see this as pointless. She is just going to get the same result a second time. And as I expected, her effervescence does not return. Apparently my blood pressure is high today. Swell. One more thing for me to worry with everyday. Peachy.

The nurse disappears out the door. I imagine her scurrying the intricate maze of hallways in search of her lost fountain of happy. A few more minutes of flipping through the tattered pages of the obsolete new car reviews and my doctor enters the room. He reviews the notes that Nurse Rainbows and Unicorns entered into the computer and comes over and picks up the blood pressure cuff. Here we go again. "Hmmm", I hear him mutter. He elects to take it in my other arm. Still no difference. He gives me a talk about dangling my arm and takes another reading with identical results. Finally,  he tosses in the proverbial towel and tells me that he is going to prescribe me blood pressure medication. Great.

A few weeks go by and I develop an irritating dry cough. At my next appointment,  I mention the cough to the doctor who immediately recognizes it as a side effect of the medication and changes me to another prescription. In the meantime, I decide that I need to see if I can work myself off the medication altogether. My charming wife recommends alterations to my diet and drinking more water. I begin to consider factors contributing to the levels of stress that I operate under daily. I identify several stressors not all under my control. I begin what I now refer to as my stress reduction diet. Getting up early, staying up late, and surviving on 4 or 5 hours of sleep was my norm developed when I was racing. I read somewhere that you really need 6-8 hours of sleep for ideal health and wellness. I decide we could start shooting for 6 and work from there. We begin walking three times a week. I begin to evaluate my job and other activities as well as my calendar noting what activities are essential and what can be eliminated.

I begin to consider decompression weekends and three day holidays where I can unplug from ringing cellphones, twitter, facebook, 5 email accounts, and text messages. One trip is a 5-mile hiking venture in the Appalachian mountains to an inn that is beyond cellphone and data service reach. Add a one week vacation at the beach with no preplanned agenda. Just five days of sleeping late, walking on the beach, and sitting in swings enjoying the view. I begin evaluating relationships. If there is nothing but drama and nothing positive coming from the relationship,  I need to remove myself from it for my better health and welfare.

The hypertension or high blood pressure diagnoses came almost three years ago. Six months ago my doctor took me off blood pressure medication completely. Last week I was in for an annual physical. My blood pressure was 114/80 with no meds. I share this story not to brag but to encourage. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension,  do not give up or lose hope. Begin to evaluate the stressors in your life and determine the ones you can change or eliminate. Start making the changes that can lower your stress levels. Start taking an annual vacation. Start taking occasional weekends away and unplug. You can manage your stress and lower your blood pressure.


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