Stress Is Affecting Your Type 2 Diabetes
You know the things you eat affect your diabetes. Its easy to see the impact a brownie has on your blood sugar. You also know that exercise, your family history, and even your gender can play a role in the development and severity of your diabetes.
But do you know how stress is affecting your diabetes? One recent study has shown that stress increases the risk of getting type 2 diabetes in older women. But men are at risk too. Anyone with stress faces an increased risk of getting type 2 diabetes or seeing changes in your diabetes if youve already been diagnosed. Both physical and emotional stress can cause changes in your blood sugar levels, which can cause or worsen your diabetes.
How To Cope With Stress
Everyone copes with stressful situations in different ways. If you want to change the way you react so things feel easier, try the Stress Manager tool on our Learning Zone. Answer questions on how you deal with the demands of managing your condition to get a plan of action to help you simplify stressful situations.
Look after yourself
At times of stress, its even more important to remember to look after yourself and treat yourself kindly.
But we know its not always as easy as that. If youre extra busy at work or looking after family then forgetting to eat or take medication can happen.
Its important to get a balance between looking after yourself without putting too much pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly. This can add or lead to stress. But its good to be aware of how easy it can be to give into the habit of letting diabetes self-care slip in times of stress.
Getting enough sleep and building exercise, rest and relaxation time into your routine helps some people cope better with stress.
“When things get hard, I usually go into self-care over drive. If too many hypos are throwing me off, I’ll hole up on the sofa with blankets and some trashy TV to make me feel better.”
Laura, who has type 1 diabetes – read Laura’s story
And you dont need us to tell you that turning to comfort food will raise your blood sugar and make you feel worse. Similarly, drinking more alcohol will affect your blood sugar levels.
Talk to others
Does Emotion Affect Blood Glucose
Yes, emotions can affect your blood sugar. Anxiety, fear, even that happy feeling you had when you got that new job can be stressful sometimes. When were stressed whether its physical stress or mental stress our bodies produce hormones such as cortisol that can raise blood glucose even if we havent eaten. These hormones are known as the fight or flight hormones.
Modern day stresses can be anything from starting a new job to fighting an illness to getting ready for that big birthday party. These hormones release our bodys emergency stores of sugar into the bloodstream for use as energy. Sometimes the influx of sugar is too much for the body to use when someone has diabetes and it can cause blood sugars to rise too high.
There are some healthy ways to deal with stress so that the fight or flight response isnt activated. These can include taking a walk, listening to music, talking with a good friend, meditation or prayer.
So, dont stress about stress! Find healthy ways to deal with it and youll keep those blood sugars in check.
How To Reduce Your Stress Level
- Find opportunities to rest: sit, lie down, put your feet up.
- Talk to friends, family and your partner about your concerns and stresses.
- Lower your expectations of yourself. The house can be messy, the laundry can fall behind and you can be less than perfect. You’re helping your baby grow and be healthy, and that’s your first priority.
- Get enough sleep.
- Ask for help in getting tasks done. Ask a friend to drive, a sister to help set up the nursery, your partner to grocery shop. If possible, hire out tasks like yard work and house cleaning during your pregnancy.
- Know and accept your limits. Let friends and family know that for now, you have to take special care of yourself and your baby. When you need rest. excuse yourself and go rest. When you feel overwhelmed, take on less.
- Be physically active every day. It’s a great stress reliever.
- Add relaxation to each day. Listen to your favorite music at work. Take a bubble bath. Close your eyes and do nothing except breathe deeply.
- Schedule time for what you want to do. Book time on your own calendar for whatever gives you joy. Visit a museum. Do needlework. Talk long distance with a friend. Read a long novel. Sit in the garden.
- Watch funny movies, read silly books, laugh with friends.
- Cry if you want. It’s a great stress reliever.
- Remind yourself that gestational diabetes isn’t forever.
Taking Care Of Yourself When Stressed
When were stressed, we typically dont take good care of ourselves.
Theres a reason they call it comfort food. For most people, chocolate or fast food seems to be the first thing they reach for when were stressed.
Stress also makes it tempting to put off your regular exercise routine in favor of the couch and a Netflix binge.
These can all become deciding factors in a spike in blood sugar.
Need a solution? Get moving when youre stressed. Dont feel like you have to complete an extensive cardio routine. Often something as simple as a walk around the block can make a difference in your mood.
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Variability In Diabetes Medication Absorption Can Cause Blood Sugar To Go Up And Down
A lot of patients with diabetes do not know or understand the fact that bioavailability of medications we take again and again is not necessarily the same. In other words, the same dose of the same medication may be absorbed differently every time we take the medication. Most insulin injections have variability in absorption after injection up to 20%. This variability can change from 5% up to 20%. At higher levels of insulin, the absolute number of insulin units will change significantly. For example, if you take 10 units of insulin, maximum variability may result in the absorption of 8 units of insulin. On the other hand, if you are taking 100 units of insulin they can create insulin variability up to 20 units. Obviously, this will create significant changes in blood sugar levels. The site of injection, type of needle, and technique of injection can also make a difference in the variability of insulin absorption.
Besides insulin, other medications can have variability in the absorption and lead to up and down blood sugars or severe blood sugar fluctuations. For example, taking metformin with food can improve the absorption compared to taking metformin on an empty stomach.
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, its likely that your mental stress is negatively affecting you blood sugar.
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How To Manage Your Stress Levels
Some forms of stress cannot be managed, especially if they are not frequent in nature such as a one-time traumatic event or an accidental injury. Other types of stress, such as taking care of family, work stressors, or any other day-to-day stressful situations, will likely be there permanently or semipermanently. These types of stressful events are the ones that need to be managed as best you can.
To do this, you can proactively plan ahead. This means being prepared for the regular stressors of life and managing your time, reading self-help books, or minimizing the source of stress as much as possible. Calming exercises such as yoga and meditation have also been proven to reduce stress levels. You will also want to avoid indulging in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating. It may seem comforting at the time, but it will not help to relieve the stress you are experiencing.
Setting realistic and manageable goals is also a big stress reducer for those with diabetes. Instead of focusing on a large and vague goal such as losing weight, setting a goal of walking for at least a half-hour every day on specific days of the week will be much more achievable.
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 youre stressed out, you might:
- Exercise more or less
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Blood Sugar And Cortisol: How Stress Affects Your Blood Glucose
- Reading Time: 5 minutes
Blood sugar and cortisol how are they related?
Well, as it turns out, cortisol is a stress hormone that does a lot of things to your body.
It works in conjunction with adrenaline and noradrenaline to increase your mental and physical abilities to deal with the stressor.
But if the stress keeps knocking on the door, then we have a problem.
The body stays flooded with cortisol.
And blood sugar rises too.
But why does this happen?
And what are the health implications of high blood sugar and cortisol?
Lets find out.
How Stress Affects The Body
When the body is under stress, it releases cortisol. Cortisol is synthesized from cholesterol and then released from the adrenal glands. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is a unit in the brain comprised of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands, is what regulates the production of cortisol and how much of it is released during periods of physical and emotional stress.
When the body sends signals of stressboth emotional and physicalit releases cortisol to help the body respond to a perceived threat, control blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. It is the hormone that is used for the fight-or-flight response so if there is any immediate danger, the body will be ready to face it or run from it.
Cortisol can also encourage the liver to release glucose and fatty acids to help give the body the energy it needs to deal with stress. From an evolutionary standpoint, the release of cortisol to deal with stress was important for survival. However, times have changed and those types of threats to life are now, for the most part, nonexistent. This means that cortisol is released and not used by the body in ways that it’s meant to be used in some situations.
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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.
What Happens In Your Body When You Get Stressed
Stress hormones have a big role to play.
When youre experiencing physical or emotional stress, hormones are released that increase your blood sugar. Cortisol and adrenaline are other primary hormones involved.
This is a perfectly natural response. For example, if youre being chased by a barking dog or youre in a dangerous situation, you need these hormones to prepare your body for a fight or flight situation.
But when youre stressed, your body releases these hormones, even if there isnt a major physical threat involved.
The result? Higher blood pressure, increased heart rate and a rise in blood sugar.
The problem becomes more complicated.
If youre consistently under stress, your hormones and sugar will continue to surge.
Over time, this can put you at risk for:
- Heart disease
This is one reason why its so important to treat your stress and anxiety.
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Can Stress Cause High Blood Glucose
It is commonly known that certain foods, illness and lack of exercise can increase blood glucose levels. However, another factor that can increase blood glucose levels is stress. Managing stress is quite complicated. To make it even harder, each type of stress can affect blood glucose levels differently. Its all highly individual. So, how can stress cause high blood glucose and what can you do about it?
Are Some People More Prone To Anxiety Than Others
Thats a difficult question, and theres no one correct answer.
Generally, both physical and psychological factors cause everyone to react to stress differently.
For example, genetics can play a role. Some genes that control the stress response may go into overdrive while for other people, they are under reactive.
Those who experience traumatic life events or are survivors of abuse may be more vulnerable to stress.
Still others may have a combination of factors.
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Sugar Zaps Your Brain Power
Your stomach may be telling you to dive in and drink your way out of that jumbo cherry Icee, but your brain has a different idea.
Emerging research has found that diets high in sugar can impair cognitive functioning, even in the absence of extreme weight gain or excessive energy intake.
A found that consuming high levels of sugar-sweetened beverages impaired neurocognitive functions like decision making and memory.
Granted, the research was done on rats.
But a more recent study found that healthy volunteers in their 20s scored worse on memory tests and had poorer appetite control after just 7 days of eating a diet high in saturated fat and added sugars.
While more studies are necessary to establish a clearer link between sugar and cognition, its worth noting that your diet can affect your brain health.
Emotional Stress May Cause A Rise In Glucose Levels
We are mostly aware of physical stress and how to manage it. Emotional stress is more complicated to detect and so more difficult to manage. Feelings like fear, anxiety, anger and excitement all cause the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream, to help prepare the body for the so-called fight-or-flight response. When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands become enlarged and produce two hormones – adrenaline and noradrenaline. While the main role of noradrenaline is to prevent blood pressure from falling, adrenaline is an important blood glucose regulating substance1. Raising blood glucose is important in stressful situations, as the body prepares itself for a lot of physical and mental activity. The release of adrenaline helps achieve this and, combined with the increase in blood pressure, ensures the supply of oxygen and glucose to all parts of the body².
For people who do not have diabetes, the body releases insulin to reduce high blood glucose levels. However, for people with diabetes, stress may contribute to increase blood glucose levels for many days, weeks or months.
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Stress And Anxiety Can Cause Blood Sugar Fluctuations
Blood sugars can go up and down due to stress and anxiety
Unfortunately when you are under stress and have anxiety our body produces stress hormones. The most commonly known stress hormones are cortisol and adrenaline. These are the same hormones that can increase blood sugars in the morning known as the dawn phenomenon. However, chronically elevated stress and anxiety can lead to elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels which are hormones that reduce the efficacy of insulin. Pain is another reason that can increase blood sugar levels through the same mechanism. Thinking positively and finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety can definitely improve blood sugar levels.
Where To Seek Support
Family and friends can often help, but if you feel you need more professional help your GP is a great point of call .
Diabetes NSW & ACT has a team of health professionals that can support you. Call our Helpline on 1300 342 238 and ask to speak to a Diabetes Educator, Dietitian, Exercise Physiologist or our Psychologist on Call.
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Reducing Stress In The Moment
- Close your eyes and take deep inhales and exhales for 30 seconds
- Go for a walk
- Exercise to get your heart rate UP which causes your central nervous system to relax
- Go for a drive
- Watch your favorite stand-up comedy
- Make a to-do list to get everything off your mind
- Clean your house
- Create a voice memo like your own private therapy session
- Dance to your favorite music
Everything that makes you calm down, makes you smile, or helps your body relax will have a positive effect on your stress level.