How Stress Affects Diabetes

April 01,2021 |

Stress is the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or incapable of handling what you’re dealing with and can manifest from emotional or physical strain. Stress often leads to worry, anxiety, or depression and can cause a number of physical reactions within your body. While acute stress is meant to help us avoid dangerous situations, chronic stress can lead to serious problems.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires ongoing care and maintenance. It’s something that you need to think about every day, from morning till night. You need to test your blood glucose levels and administer insulin as needed to avoid serious complications. Diabetes requires you to take an otherwise involuntary function into your own hands.

When looking at stress and diabetes, it’s easy to understand how the two are related. Living with diabetes adds stress to your daily routine. The process of always thinking about what you eat, do, or even feel can be overwhelming. However, the link between them is a two-sided street. While diabetes can cause stress, stress can also worsen diabetes. Here we’ll talk about how stress affects diabetes.

Why Does Stress Worsen Diabetes?

Stress causes a physical reaction within your body, commonly referred to as fight-or-flight. While this is beneficial in short-term situations, stress increases your hormone levels and causes multiple neurons to fire. This in turn, tells your body to release adrenaline and cortisol so you can react. These hormones enter your bloodstream and in turn, cause an increase in respiratory rate.

The reason for this reaction is evolutionary. The increased hormones and blood flow allows for faster response rates so you can fight the situation or flee. Again, this is beneficial in acute circumstances, such as when you encounter a predator or are faced with a threat. However, when this occurs continually due to non-immediate dangers, it strains your body.

Specifically, the physical reaction from stress leads to an increased rate of glucose in the blood stream—a byproduct of neural firing. If you don’t convert the glucose into energy, such as what would be needed to fight or flee, it builds up and can become problematic. Unfortunately, stress also leads to a drop in natural insulin levels. For those living with diabetes, this can make management difficult and potentially dangerous.

The Differences Between Physical and Mental Stress

Everybody processes stress differently and certain types of stress can have different effects on your body. Mental stress can increase glucose levels for those living with type 2 diabetes but tends to have a varied effect on people living with type 1 diabetes. In fact, mental stress may either increase or decrease blood glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes, which is an interesting fact to consider. Physical stress from injury or illness tends to increase blood glucose levels for people living with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Understanding Diabetes Distress

Diabetes distress is the feeling of frustration, overwhelm, stress, or defeat when trying to manage diabetes. These feelings can be dynamic and change overtime, but they can also result in depression that hinders the ability to care for yourself. It’s an emotional state that should be addressed with professionals to make sure that you are properly maintaining your diabetes management. When left untreated, diabetes distress can lead to worsening of health outcomes and increased complications.

How to Tell if Stress is Affecting Glucose Levels

If you feel overly stressed, try to keep a diary or journal. By monitoring your stressors, you’ll be able to better understand how your body reacts to different circumstances. If you notice patterns, you’ll be able to make changes to reduce the effect of stress on your blood glucose levels. Whenever you feel stressed, rate your level of overwhelm or anxiety and then take your blood glucose levels. This will allow you to get a better idea of how your body reacts, which will help you manage your diabetes in the future.

Commonly Overlooked Symptoms of Stress

The one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that stress can manifest itself through different symptoms. Many people assume that stress only leads to anxious feelings or periodic moments of overwhelm, but stress can create physical, mental, and even behavioral changes.

Stress can manifest itself in the form of headaches, pain, tension, exhaustion, illness, oversleeping, and not sleeping enough. You may notice that stress causes you to feel irritable or depressed, or you may become so overwhelmed that you lose the motivation to do anything about it. In other people, stress can create restlessness and anxiety. It’s different for everyone, which is why it’s important to try and be present with your feelings so you can better understand how to process them.

When people become so overwhelmed with stress, it may even lead to behavioral changes. Sometimes stress can lead to depression, which causes people to withdraw from their friends, family, and things that they usually love doing. They may begin drinking, smoking, or even using drugs in an effort to negate feelings of stress. Some people binge, while others avoid eating at all. When you think about all of the negative aspects of stress, it’s surprising that we don’t do more to try and manage it.

Reducing Stress Levels to Manage Diabetes

When your body reacts to stress, it creates both a physical change in blood glucose levels and a mental change in overall energy level and outlook. To make sure that you’re properly managing your diabetes, it’s important to take a few measures to reduce your stress levels.

  • Meditate – this is one of the best ways to help banish negative thoughts or emotions. The benefits of meditation are far reaching and it’s a great way to approach each day feeling optimistic and capable of handling any situation.
  • Focus on Breathing – if you don’t enjoy meditation or find it too difficult, start with some simple breathing exercises. Allow yourself to sit somewhere without distractions and focus on inhaling and exhaling for five minutes. This can help reduce your heartbeat.
  • Try Yoga – to combine the benefits of meditation and deep breathing with exercise, try yoga. Yoga is a great way to help lower your blood pressure and can improved your overall outlook on life. It increases flexibility, which can help alleviate physical stress. Start with a ten-minute session in the mornings and evenings and slowly build up to a 30-minute practice.
  • Exercise – for those that would rather get more traditional aerobic activity, try running, swimming, cycling, or hiking. As a bonus, being outside has been shown to help reduce cortisol levels and improve outlook.
  • Avoid Overcommitting – don’t feel like you need to say yes to everything. If your schedule is too busy, say no. While it might seem like you’re letting people down, you will feel so much better with fewer commitments.
  • Create a Routine – routines can help people feel calm because they remove the decision-making process involved in small tasks. Routines can also be comforting and allow for easier diabetes management.
  • Decompress and Unplug – every now and then, silence your cell phone, turn off the news, and just decompress. Head outside or enjoy your favorite book. Spend some time with loved ones or hit the gym. Whatever you need to do, do it.
  • Eat Healthy Foods – try to maintain a nutritious diet that works with your diabetes management plan. Not only will healthy foods make things easier, but you’ll start to feel better about what’s causing your stress and your cortisol levels will reduce.
  • Prioritize Sleep – getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night should be a priority. When you don’t, your brain will have difficulty processing situations, which in turn increases stress. We need an adequate amount of sleep to function our best, so make it non-negotiable.
  • Connect with Friends – getting together with loved ones, laughing, and connecting is one of the pillars of a calm and enjoyable life. Carve out some time every week to connect with friends, even if it’s just a quick phone call.

Managing your diabetes can be stressful on its own. To avoid getting stuck in a negative cycle, try to incorporate some of the ways to reduce stress in your life. In an effort to make diabetes management easier, talk to your doctor about getting a continuous glucose monitor from Byram Healthcare. This allows for easier readings and more insight on your unique circumstances. Our Caring Touch At Home Program combines convenience, affordability, and choice to deliver extensive service and support to everyone living with diabetes.