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Stress: How it Affects Diabetes and How to Decrease it

Stress and diabetes

Highlights

  1. Stress hormones in your body may directly affect glucose levels.
  2. When under mental stress, people with type 2 diabetes generally experience an increase in blood glucose levels.
  3. Your blood sugar can also increase when your body is under physical stress. This can happen when you’re sick or injured. This can affect people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes management is a lifelong process. This can add stress to your daily life. Stress can be a major barrier to effective glucose control. Stress hormones in your body may directly affect glucose levels. If you’re experiencing stress or feeling threatened, your body reacts. This is called the fight-or-flight response. This response elevates your hormone levels and causes your nerve cells to fire.

During this response, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream and your respiratory rates increase. Your body directs blood to the muscles and limbs, allowing you to fight the situation. Your body may not be able to process the glucose released by your firing nerve cells if you have diabetes. If you can’t convert the glucose into energy, it builds up in the bloodstream. This causes your blood glucose levels to rise.

Constant stress from long-term problems with blood glucose can also wear you down mentally and physically. This may make managing your diabetes difficult.

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Types of stress

How can different types of stress affect your diabetes?

Stress can affect people differently. The type of stress that you experience can also have an impact on your body’s physical response.

When people with type 2 diabetes are under mental stress, they generally experience an increase in their blood glucose levels. People with type 1 diabetes may have a more varied response. This means that they can experience either an increase or a decrease in their blood glucose levels.

When you’re under physical stress, your blood sugar can also increase. This can happen when you’re sick or injured. This can affect people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Glucose levels

How can you determine if mental stress is affecting your glucose levels?

Keeping track of additional information, such as the date and what you were doing at the time you were stressed, may help you determine specific triggers. For example, are you more stressed on Monday mornings? If so, you know now to take special steps on Monday mornings to lower your stress and keep your glucose in check.

You can figure out if this is happening to you by capturing your stress and glucose levels. If you feel stressed, rate your level of mental stress on a scale from 1 to 10. Ten represents the highest level of stress. Write this number down.

After rating your stress, you should check your glucose levels. Continue doing this for the next couple of weeks. Before long, you may see a pattern emerge. If you notice that your glucose is regularly high, it’s likely that your mental stress is negatively affecting you blood sugar.

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Symptoms

What are the symptoms of stress?

Sometimes, the symptoms of stress are subtle and you may not notice them. Stress can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being, and it can also impact your physical health. Recognizing the symptoms can help you identify stress and take steps to manage it.

If you’re stressed, you may experience:

  • headaches
  • muscle pain or tension
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • general feelings of illness
  • fatigue

If you’re stressed, you may feel:

  • unmotivated
  • irritable
  • depressed
  • restless
  • anxious

It’s also common for people who are stressed to engage in behavior that may be out of character. This includes:

  • withdrawing from friends and family
  • eating too much or too little
  • acting out in anger
  • drinking alcohol to excess
  • using tobacco

Prevention

How to reduce your stress levels

It’s possible to lessen or limit the stressors in your life. Here are a few things that you can do to manage the effects of different forms of stress.

Reducing mental stress

Meditating can help remove negative thoughts and allow your mind to relax. Consider starting each morning with a 15-minute meditation. This will set the tone for the rest of your day.

Sit in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor and your eyes closed. Recite a mantra that makes sense to you, such as “I will have a good day” or “I feel at peace with the world.” Push away any other thoughts if they enter your head, and allow yourself to be present in the moment.

Reducing emotional stress

If you find yourself in an unwanted emotional state, take five minutes to be by yourself. Remove yourself from your current environment. Find a quiet space to focus on your breathing.

Put your hand on your belly, and feel it rise and fall. Inhale deep breaths, and exhale slowly and loudly. This will slow your heartbeat down, and help bring you back to a stable emotional state. This act of centering yourself may improve how you deal with whatever is causing the stress.

Reducing physical stress

Adding yoga to your daily routine can provide both physical activity and meditation at the same time. Practicing yoga can lower your blood pressure, too. Whether it’s yoga or another form of exercise, you should aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day. You can do 10 minutes of exercise when you wake up, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes before you go to sleep.

Reducing family stress

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by family obligations, remember that it’s OK to say no. Your family will understand if you can’t make it to all events. If your stress stems from not seeing your family as often as you’d like, consider having a family fun night weekly or biweekly. You can play board games or participate in outdoor activities. This can include hiking, swimming, or signing up for a fun run together.

Reducing work stress

Stress issues at work can come home with you. Talk to your supervisor if you’re having a hard time at work. There may be options to alleviate or work through any issues you many be having.

If that doesn’t help, you may want to consider transferring to a different department or even finding new job altogether. Although stress levels elevate when looking for a new job, you may find it settles down with a different position better suited for your skills and personality.

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Coping

How to cope with diabetes-related stress

If you’re feeling stressed about your condition, know that you aren’t alone. You can connect with people online or in your community for solidarity and support.

Online support groups

If you’re a Facebook user, consider liking this diabetes support group that offers helpful tips and a strong community to help you cope. Diabetic Connect is also an online resource dedicated to improving your quality of life. It provides articles, recipes, and informative videos.

In-person support groups

For women with diabetes, Diabetes Sisters offers nationwide meetups. The group started in North Carolina and expanded due to popularity. They now offer in-person groups throughout the country. These informal meetings are held on weeknights and typically last for one or two hours.

Defeat Diabetes Foundation provides a listing of peer support groups in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You even search the directory and submit a listing of your own. The American Diabetes Association also offers local offices focused on education and community outreach.

Therapy

You may feel more comfortable talking with a professional about your stress. A therapist can provide coping mechanisms tailored to your individual situation and give you a safe environment to talk. They may also provide medical advice that online or in-person support groups can’t offer.

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Takeaway

What you can do now

Although diabetes can present a different set of challenges, it’s possible to manage it effectively and lead a happy, healthy lifestyle. You can do this by adding short, meditative sessions or small workouts to your daily routine. You can also look into support groups and find one that best suits your personality and lifestyle needs. Being proactive can help ease the tension in your life.

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