Relax, meditate, ‘SMiLE’ and lower your blood pressure

Abbey Swank

College life is time consuming and stressful. There are classes and jobs and friends to worry about, and students probably don’t think about how stress can factor in when it comes to managing high blood pressure.

“Some people start to become pre-hypertensive as young adults,” assistant psychology professor Joel Hughes said. “And that pre-hypertension develops into hypertension. The only way to know if you are pre-hypertensive is to have your blood pressure checked.”

Pre-hypertension means a person has high blood pressure, but not high enough to require medication. Hypertension means a person needs medication to control their blood pressure, Hughes said.

“People with high blood pressure are told to make routine changes in their life to lower their blood pressure, such as diet and exercise,” assistant psychology professor David Fresco said. “If people aren’t successful in lowering their blood pressure by themselves, they have to take medication for the rest of their lives. And one of the main impediments in making those changes is stress.”

Hughes, Fresco, Richard Josephson and Rodney Myerscough from Summa Health System, are collaborating on the SMiLE, or the Stress Management in Lifestyle Enhancement Study, which will look to see if mindfulness-based stress reduction and progressive muscle relaxation can help lower blood pressure.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is based on meditation and teaches participants how to be more aware of what is happening at the present time, Fresco said.

With progressive muscle relaxation, participants will tense and relax muscles in a sequence, which allows them to be more aware of when they feel tension arise, he said.

“We are hoping to give people the skills to manage stress so they are left with enough energy to make those important lifestyle changes,” he said. “Nobody wants to be on medication for the rest of their life.”

More information on the study is available by visiting

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Abbey Swank at [email protected].