Throughout our lives, we all face certain stress from time to time. Stress is a physiological response to a perceived attack, event or activity that produces tension or strain. Stress can be physical, caused by an illness or injury, or it can be emotional in the way that we react to certain situations with our families, finances or health. No matter how the stress develops, each form takes a toll on the body. You may experience headaches, muscle pain, trouble sleeping, feeling irritable and depressed, and may end up withdrawing from social activities when you’re stressed.
When you are stressed, your body will react with a “fight or flight” response. Stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine kick in, creating stored energy in the form of glucose and fat for the cells to help the body cope with the challenge ahead. Your body directs blood to your limbs and muscles, which allows you to fight whatever the stressful situation might be.
How are Stress and Diabetes Related?
When someone has diabetes and is stressed, this elevated amount of blood glucose can affect insulin levels. This is because people with diabetes have a difficult time utilizing that fight-or-flight response effectively, since the right level of insulin isn’t always available to convert energy. This causes an increase of glucose in the bloodstream.
Plus, simply just having diabetes can be a stressful situation for some people. A lot goes into managing the condition, and long term problems with blood glucose can simply wear you down both mentally and physically.
How to Lower Your Stress Levels
First of all, it’s important for people with diabetes to recognize when they are stressed out. Because stress has simply become something we cope with on a daily basis throughout our hectic lives, it can be difficult to note when we are feeling especially stressed or anxious. However, when you have diabetes and are stressed, your insulin levels may need to be adjusted to compensate for the higher levels of glucose in your blood.
Take note of the times your stress levels are elevated. For instance, if you know heading to the doctor makes you anxious, rate how stressed you feel on a level of 1 to 10. Then, check your glucose levels and watch for patterns during these stressful situations. Often insulin will need to be adjusted during these periods.
After you’ve discovered what triggers the most stress in your life, there are ways to combat it. For instance, you can:
Meditate or try yoga. Calm your mind by meditating or practicing yoga and breathing exercises.
Practice relaxation therapy. Learn to tense and relax major muscle groups in a sequence. This type of therapy has been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar levels.
Step back from the situation. If possible, remove yourself from the stressful situation. Take a few minutes to be alone, and find a quiet spot to focus on relaxing and breathing.
Incorporate physical activity into your routine. Cardiovascular exercise raises the levels of endorphins and serotonin in the brain, which can help improve your mood. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
Pick up a relaxing hobby. If you find knitting or painting helps calm you down, join a class or workshop to hone in on your talents. Or, if you prefer to cozy up with a good book, make time each day to read for a while.
Join a support group. Talking to others who share similar experiences can provide invaluable help for those dealing with chronic conditions like diabetes. Ask your doctor if there are support groups in your area, or search online.