The Wrong Way To Deal With Stress When You Have Diabetes
Food, alcohol, self-pity: These unhealthy coping mechanisms do more harm than good. When were stressed out, we turn to unhealthy food comfort food and we may start eating a lot of sweets, Belfort De Aguiar says. These are the wrong ways to cope with stress.
Also, find ways to reach out and find social connection with your loved ones. Campbell also warns against keeping your emotions bottled up inside. Be sure to share your stress, she says, even it just means having someone listen to you vent.
For more on dealing with diabetes burnout, check out Diabetes Daily’s article “How to Get Out of a Diabetes Rut“!
Stay Organized To Improve Your A1c And Lower Stress
Staying organized about all the aspects of your care doctors appointments, at-home blood-glucose monitoring, medication schedules can help with overall diabetes management. According to past research, maintaining solid organizational practices are linked to lower chronic cortisol levels, and finding a diabetes-management routine that works for you will also reduce the risk of health complications.
How Stress Affects Blood Sugar Levels
Two types of stress can change blood sugar levels:
- Physical stress
- Mental or emotional stress
Each type of stress affects blood sugar levels differently. Physical stress generally causes blood sugar levels to increase. Physical stress includes:
Mental or emotional stress has mixed effects, depending on the type of diabetes you have:
- Type 1 diabetes: Mental stress can increase or decrease blood sugar levels.
- Type 2 diabetes: Mental stress generally increases blood sugar levels.
Stress also can affect your blood sugar levels indirectly by causing you to forget about your regular diabetes care routine. When you’re stressed out, you might:
- Exercise more or less
- Not test your blood sugar level as often
- Forget or delay a dose of medication and/or insulin
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Roller Coaster: Female Hormones
When a woman’s hormones change, so does their blood sugar. Keep a monthly record of your levels to get a better idea of how your menstrual cycle affects you. Hormone changes during menopause may make blood sugar even harder to control. Talk to your doctor about whether hormone replacement therapy is a good idea.
Is Stress Messing With Your Blood Sugar
Stress may raise glucose levels in your blood, leading to hyperglycemia and even diabetes. Learn how to control your condition.
Researchers have linked dozens of physical symptoms to stress overload, from fatigue to weight gain. You can add another symptom to that list: high blood sugar.
When you’re stressed, your body is primed to take action. This “gearing up” is what causes your heart to beat faster, your breath to quicken, and your stomach to knot. It also triggers your blood glucose levels to skyrocket. “Under stress, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, raising blood sugar levels to prepare you for action,” says Richard Surwit, PhD, author of The Mind-Body Diabetes Revolution and chief of medical psychology at Duke University in Durham, NC. If your cells are insulin resistant, the sugar builds up in your blood, with nowhere to go, leading to hyperglycemia.
We have no shortage of short-term stress in our livesfrom traffic jams to working long hours at a demanding joband our stress hormones, which were designed to deal with short-term dangers like fleeing predators, are turned on for long periods of time, even though we’re neither fighting nor fleeing. What we’re doing is stewing, which can cause chronically high blood sugar.
No matter how busy you are, you can find ways to restespecially if you have diabetes. Here’s how:
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Diabetes: A Source Of Stress
Diabetes is an agent of stress for several reasons:
- Diabetes is a condition that is chronic, permanent and imposed .
- The symptoms are usually present and disruptive.
- You are dependent on a treatment and forced to change your lifestyle.
- The treatment can cause side effects.
- The risk of complications compounds already numerous frustrations.
- The disease can undermine your self-image and self-confidence.
- You may be a victim of prejudice and discrimination: at work, when dealing with an insurance company, in the eyes of others, etc.
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What Are Symptoms Of Depression
Too much stress sometimes can lead to depression. People with diabetes are more likely to be depressed than the average person. You may be at risk for depression if you have any of the following symptoms for more than a week:
- Feeling sad or irritable
- Having lost interest in activities you enjoy
- Feeling worthless
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Summary: How Stress Affects Your Blood Sugar
In short, stress will generally cause your blood sugar to rise. It will also be difficult to bring it down because of the insulin resistance created by stress hormones and the production of glucose from your livers response to adrenaline.
The larger majority of stressful situations arent something we can easily predict, but once youre experiencing stress, you can predict that your blood sugar might spike.
Remembering to check your blood sugar during and after stressful situations is an important part of diabetes management, but dont add to your stress by expecting to be able to easily correct any high blood sugars during a stressful state.
Is Stress The Source Of Your Blood Sugar Swing
Right now, COVID-19 stress can feel like a given and if something causes you stress, it can also trigger an increase if your blood sugar level.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you know that certain foods particularly foods that are high in carbohydrates can send your blood glucose level through the roof. But did you know that theres a long list of other factors, such as too little sleep, illness, even monthly menstrual cycles, that can sabotage your best efforts to stabilize your blood sugar?
High on that list, though you may not be aware of it, is stress.
Whether its related to work, to relationships, or to some other aspect of your life, research has continually shown that emotional stress can cause blood sugar to surge, according to the American Diabetes Association . And because consistent management of blood sugar is the key to living a healthy life with type 2 diabetes, its important to understand how stress affects you and to find healthy ways to cope when mental distress mounts.
Thats especially true right now when the novel coronavirus is top of mind and everyones stress level is sky-high. In addition to heightening health worries, the COVID-19 pandemic comes with immense economic and daily living stressors. Whether youve lost your job, are working from home, helping your kids with e-learning, or quarantined by yourself, its natural to feel stress.
As if stress werent bad enough on its own, it can contribute to irregular blood-sugar levels.
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Handling Your Response To Stress
You have some control over your reaction to stress. You can learn to relax and this may reduce your bodys hormonal response to stress. There are often groups in your community, or books you can read, that teach relaxation techniques.
Some of these techniques are surprisingly simple and effective. There are a range of options to help you relax. For example:
Getting regular exercise
Consciously replacing bad thoughts with good ones
Whatever method you choose to relax, practice it. Just as it takes weeks or months of practice to learn a new sport, it takes practice to learn relaxation.
You can also often make quite simple lifestyle changes that can help reduce some of the stress factors. For example, if you always get very stressed when you get stuck in a traffic jam that makes you late for work, think about what other options are open to you. Would it be a more healthy option for you to walk to the railway station and take the train?
Take time to look at your life coolly and clearly. One way to do this is to imagine that you are a friend who has come to talk to you over the fact that their life is getting them down. What changes could that friend make in their life? Changes that would either reduce their stress levels or strengthen their ability to cope?
How Your Body Reacts To Stress
When your body detects the presence of stress and anxiety, it sees it as an attack. As such, the central nervous system prepares your body for the battle. It does this by producing increased amounts of adrenaline and cortisol.
These two hormones have a direct impact on your coronary system. Your heart starts pumping blood and rushing it to different parts of your body. This is to ensure that all your organs have enough energy to fight the symptoms of stress. And there are many possible symptoms, ranging from heartburn to trouble breathing.
If stress is a constant in your life, it can result in a number of chronic illnesses. These include severe insomnia, infertility, and even heart attack. Moreover, stress also affects your blood sugar levels, which can worsen the symptoms of diabetes.
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Scary Movies Work Stress And Trauma Of Any Kind All Cause Your Liver To Release Stored Glucose To Support Natural ‘fight Or Flight’ Responses
Last weekend I decided to stay up late and watch a scary movie. It had something to do with super-gross vampires who get their jollies by eating the flesh of unsuspecting hotel guests.
Anyway, after the final gut-wrenching, heart-pumping scene, I decided to check my blood sugar. Ill be darned it had risen about 200 mg/dL during the movie. With blood that sweet, I felt like the grand prize for any vampires that might happen to be lurking in my neighborhood.
As you may be aware, the liver serves as a storehouse for glucose, keeping it in a concentrated form called glycogen. The liver breaks down small amounts of glycogen all the time, releasing glucose into the bloodstream to nourish the brain, nerves, heart and other always active organs.
The livers release of glucose depends largely on the presence of certain hormones. Of all the hormones in the body, only insulin causes the liver to take sugar out of the bloodstream and store it in the form of glycogen. All the other hormonesincluding stress hormones, sex hormones, growth hormones and glucagoncause the liver to secrete glucose back into the bloodstream.
Anxious moments and nerve-racking situations happen to all of us. From speaking in public to test-taking to a simple visit to the doctor or dentist, many events elicit a stress hormone response that causes, among other things, a sharp blood sugar rise.
Low Blood Sugar Mimics Anxiety
The mutual symptoms of low blood sugar and anxiety are not coincidental. There is a shared physiological base of the two conditions.
When low blood sugar occurs, the body attempts to normalize levels by bringing blood glucose up. It does this through epinephrine excretion, which triggers glucose production in the liver.
Increased adrenaline levels, however, trigger a “fight or flight” response in the body. This same biochemical process is also linked to anxiety.
A longer-term or chronic low blood sugar state can also cause the body to produce cortisol, which is the “stress hormone.” Cortisol helps tissues in the body be less reactive to insulin, which helps increase glucose circulation in the bloodstream.
While this may help raise and normalize blood sugar levels, higher cortisol levels are also linked to anxiety. For this reason, many of the warning signs and symptoms of low blood sugar are shared with that of anxiety.
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Why Your Blood Sugar Drops
The goal of diabetes treatment is to lower your blood sugar. But sometimes, it drops too low. Most people feel symptoms if it goes below 70 milligrams per deciliter . It can happen when you:
- Take too much diabetes medicine
- Skip meals
- Eat less
- Exercise more than normal
People who donât have diabetes can get low blood sugar, too. Some medicines and diseases can cause it. It can also happen if you:
- Drink too much alcohol
- Eat lots of sugary, high-carb foods
Ways To Reduce Mental Stress3
- Learn how to relax during stressful moments by using deep-breathing exercises.
- Evaluate your schedule to find how to make changes to relieve stress.
- Exercise regularly and take regular outdoor walks to experience nature, which generally has a soothing effect on the body and soul.
It is important to understand what stress is and how it effects your body. By identfiying and actively finding healthy ways to overcome your stress triggers, you can help to improve your diabetes management.
References1. Glucerna.How Stress Affects Blood Sugar Levels 2020. Abbott Laboratories. Available at: https://glucerna.com/why-glucerna/how-stress-affects-blood-sugar-levels..2. Diabetes UK. Stress And Blood Glucose-Levels.2019. Diabetes Digital Media. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/stress-and-blood-glucose-levels.html .3. Mind Organisation. Stress. 1st ed. London: Mind publications, p.1-15. 2017. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/2959/stress-2017.pdf .
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If You Develop A Complication Of Diabetes
Developing a complication of diabetes may result in significant readjustments in your life. If it makes you less mobile, you may feel you have become more dependent on others, or you might need to shift house or jobs. If your vision is more limited, you may need to concentrate harder on achieving tasks that were previously easy. Depending on what impact the complication has on your life, you may feel a great deal of grief associated with the loss of full health.
Having diabetes is stressful. It can also mean that it is more of a challenge for us to manage other life stresses. As you become more experienced with diabetes it tends to assume a less intrusive place in your life. As you achieve a comfortable balance between caring for yourself and also having fun and enjoying your life, your stress management strategies can become more effective.
Is It Only ‘negative Stress’ That Affects Blood Sugar
Even positive life changes can cause blood sugar to swing, says Amy Campbell, RD, a certified diabetes care and education specialist, and a contributor to DiabetesSelfManagement.com. Planning a wedding, moving to a new city, getting a job promotion such happy stressors can also send your fight-or-flight hormones into overdrive.
A past review cited the definition of stress as the physiological or psychological response to an external stimulus, regardless of whether that stimulus is good or bad. That means that if you experience a significant change in your life whether it’s positive or negative its a good idea to keep an extra-close watch on your blood sugar.
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Ways To Combat Stress
Everyone experiences stress from time to time. However, constant stress isnt good for your body, mind, or your type 2 diabetes. Instead of letting stress get the better of you, meet it head-on with some de-stressing techniques, including these:
Stress isnt good for anyone, yet everyone experiences it. Instead of drowning beneath your stress, make an effort to reduce it. Not only will your mind feel freer, but your diabetes will likely be easier to manage.
How Can I Reduce Stress In My Life
There are many things you can do to reduce stress. The following are some suggestions:
- Take your medications as directed and eat healthy meals.
- Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing.
- Get some exercise. You can reduce stress though activities such as dancing, walking, or biking. Do something that you enjoy.
- Remember to keep your sense of humor. Laughing helps to reduce stress.
- Join a support group. You can meet people with problems similar to yours and make new friends.
- Seek out professional help in order to talk about what’s troubling you.
There are additional strategies that you can use to help reduce stress in your life. Talk to your diabetes educator or doctor for more ideas.
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Keep A Close Eye On Your Blood Sugar Levels
Its always important to keep tabs on your stress and blood sugar. Thats why we recommend a fasting blood sugar test at every yearly physical.If your blood sugar starts to creep upwards, we can be proactive and start measures to help you.
This is particularly important if you have diabetes or prediabetes. In fact, if you have these conditions, we may suggest that you have blood sugar screenings more often. We can guide you through when you should check your blood sugar, and our dietitian can help you select healthy meals.
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 youre stressed, you may experience:
Its 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.
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Anxiety Over Low Blood Sugar
A low blood sugar episode, which can include anything from confusion and shakiness to nausea, loss of consciousness, and seizures, can be very scary. It therefore makes sense that some people with diabetes also experience anxiety related to possibly having a low blood sugar episodeand not just as a physiological reaction to low blood sugar levels.
This anxiety is so common that the term “fear of hypoglycemia” is commonly used among physicians and researchers. Research has found that a history of experiencing mild hypoglycemia increases FoH in people who have diabetes.