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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 bodys 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 youre under physical stress, your blood sugar can also increase. This can happen when youre sick or injured. This can affect people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
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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Stress In People With Type 1 Diabetes
Stress can affect those with type 1 diabetes by both increasing and decreasing blood sugar. In the case where it lowers blood sugar levels, chronic stress can lead to a syndrome known as adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is where prolonged exposure to stress drains the adrenal glands, leading to a low cortisol state. In those with type 1 diabetes, the underproduction of hormones such as cortisol can cause an imbalance in hormones that are meant to regulate blood sugar levels.
Research has also looked at whether stress can cause diabetes. Many studies have postulated that chronic stress especially can contribute to the onset of type 1 diabetes in those who are already susceptible to developing it.
Shortness of breath
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.
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Turn To Your Healthcare Team For Additional Help
If your stress is so bad that you cant function in your normal relationships or you suspect youre depressed, talk to your primary care physician or endocrinologist. Endocrinologists in particular often collaborate with mental health professionals who can help you cope with excessive stress.
For more information on managing anxiety while living with diabetes, check out Diabetes Daily’s article “Diabetes and Anxiety: What You Need to Know.”
The Symptoms Of Stress
Stress can manifest differently in one person from the next. For some, positive or negative stress may produce immediate tears, for example. In others, it may cause them to be silent and speechless. And others may become easily angry and irritable.
Depending on the severity of the stress level, your symptoms can vary. Here are some examples of stress symptoms:
Mild to moderate stress
- panic attacks
Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress is linked to 6 of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
Before we move on to how stress can affect your blood sugar and what you can do to reduce stress, lets take a closer look at the hormones involved in a stress reaction.
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Recharge Your Batteries By Getting A Good Nights Sleep
Plenty of research shows that lack of adequate sleep can lead to emotional strain for example, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that sleep deprivation is a contributing factor to anxiety disorders. Whats more, poor sleep may cause blood sugar levels to swing: In a large study published in Diabetes Care, people with type 2 diabetes who slept less than 4.5 hours per night had higher blood sugar levels than those who slept 6.5 to just over 7 hours a night. Sleeping too much was also associated with higher blood sugar. Getting enough sleep can help your diabetes management, Campbell says. If youre not sleeping well at night, discuss the matter with your doctor.
When To Go To The Er
High blood sugar can be very concerning because your body can start burning fat for energy instead of blood glucose.
This can cause conditions such as DKA and hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome . These conditions are medical emergencies and can be fatal if left untreated.
DKA is a serious complication of type 1 diabetes. Its rare in people with type 2 diabetes, but can occur.
Symptoms that can indicate you should go to the emergency room include:
- ketones in your urine, as diagnosed using a urine dipstick test
- stomach pain
High blood sugar levels can cause a fluid imbalance in the body and can cause the blood to become acidic in a manner that doesnt support life.
Medical treatments for these conditions include administering intravenous insulin on a continuous basis and IV fluids to correct dehydration.
High blood sugar can become a medical emergency. Go to the ER if you suspect DKA or HHS.
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Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation Another Meditative Practice
This technique involves tensing and relaxing each part of your body, one area at a time. Put on some soothing music and find a script online to guide you through the body parts, such as this one from the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. By the end, youll feel the antianxiety effect, Bhatia says.
A study published in April 2015 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that 12 weeks of progressive muscle relaxation reduced levels of anxiety and depression, and improved quality of life in people with pulmonary arterial hypertension. Whats more, practicing progressive muscle relaxation twice a day for about 25 to 30 minutes at a time was shown to reduce blood sugar levels among people with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in March 2016 in the Open Journal of Nursing.
How Does Adrenaline Affect Your Blood Sugar
In a non-diabetic body, that surge of adrenaline triggering a surge of glycogen would be accompanied by a surge of insulin, too.
As people with diabetes, were missing the surge of insulin part, which can easily spike your blood sugar from 120 mg/dL to 300 mg/dL in less than an hour.
Adjusting your insulin for this can be tricky. A quick bolus of insulin using your normal correction factor ratio could easily produce little or no effect on the high blood sugar while adrenaline is present.
Personally, Ive found that I needed a significant increase in my background insulin doses on the day of a powerlifting competition in order to keep my blood sugar from spiking due to adrenaline. A quick bolus would have no impact and the only thing that would otherwise bring my blood sugar down was when the competition ended and my body relaxed.
If youre dealing with predictable adrenaline around a sporting event, for example, talk to your healthcare team about making an adjustment in your background insulin.
If youre dealing with sudden, unexpected surges of adrenaline because you just got into a car accident, for example, youll likely have to try lowering it with a bolus of insulin but may not see it come down for a few hours.
When its actually not adrenaline
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How Does Stress Impact Blood Sugar
Let’s say you’re getting ready to give a speech to a large audience. You’re feeling nervous and stressed, and your body begins to react.
Epinephrine, cortisol, growth hormone, and glucagonâthe stress hormonesâwork together to release glucose into your bloodstream, among other changes. These changes help you stay sharp, focused, and give you extra energy.
Your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol to encourage your liver to produce more glucose.
Glucagon plays an active role in regulating how the body uses glucose and fats. Itâs released when blood sugar levels are low in the body and when the body needs a burst of glucose for energyâexercise is a great example. It can mobilize stored glucose and stored fat for the body to use as energy without the release of insulin. During stress, glucagon levels rise to further promote the production of glucose.
Growth hormone, secreted from your pituitary gland in your brain, also halts the effects of insulin.
This sophisticated system works well for moments when you need to deal with a real threat or challenge.
But when you’re constantly stressed out, your blood sugar levels can remain high.
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
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How Stress Affects Blood Sugar
6/29/2020 by Miriam Stangs
From adrenaline-soaked excitement to prolonged anxiety, stress can have many faces. Sometimes, it can feel like all those stressors dont play well with your diabetes monster. Were here to explain how stress impacts your blood glucose and how you can gain control.
Back in our evolutionary history, the original purpose of your stress response was to provide energy reserves for fight-or-flight in case of an emergency. The urban jungle we live in today hardly requires a prehistoric escape, but our body still reacts to our daily stress in the same way it did back then.
And constant, heavy, stress can cause blood sugar levels to rise. But acute stress in certain situations that you perceive as stressful can also cause spikes in your blood sugar levels.¹
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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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?
What To Do If You Have A Blood Sugar Spike
For those with diabetes, having a blood sugar spike can be dangerous because too much sugar in the blood passes into the urine. This triggers the body to filter out the fluid, which could lead to dehydration or a diabetic coma.
In the event that blood sugar levels spike because of stressors that cannot be managed, its vital to make managing your blood glucose a priority. You can do this by focusing on things you can control, such as your diet and exercise, checking your blood sugar regularly, and taking your medications as instructed by your physician.
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Stress In People With Type 2 Diabetes
For people with type 2 diabetes, high levels of stress can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels. When there is a high level of cortisol in the body, it causes body tissues to be less sensitive to insulin. Therefore, more blood sugar is available in the bloodstream. When this happens, blood sugar levels become imbalanced and can reach dangerously high levels, especially if it is left untreated.
Stress Activates Our Fat Cells
That isnât the end of the story for cortisol. Cortisol also triggers an enzyme in our fat cells that helps relocate fat from storage deposits around the body to fat cell deposits deep in the abdomen, also known as visceral fat cells. Stress can actually cause many people to accumulate more belly fat. The more stress you have, the more cortisol is in your body and the more abdominal fat youâll find.In studies, these central fat cells have been linked to not only a greater risk for heart disease, but also a higher risk for diabetes. If you already have diabetes, your condition can grow worse because of an overall elevated level of stress and cortisol in your system.Not only that, but cortisol also increases food cravings, which are already hard to manage with diabetes.
Stress-induced cortisol increases food cravings, making it even harder to manage your dietBut it’s ok to snack! If you haven’t had a chance to see it, we’ve posted a blog on 5 “Swap” Food that Decrease Stress. Just remember, everything in moderation.
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Stick To Your Medication And Insulin Regimen
Skipping a dose of medication or insulin can be harmful to your body and increase your blood sugar levels.
Its important to stick to your treatment plan and follow your doctors instructions for taking your medication.
Healthful lifestyle habits can help people manage their blood sugar levels over the long term, such as eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, staying hydrated, and getting good sleep.