Stress and Diabetes: What You Need to Know

We live in a high-paced society constantly putting us under pressure. All of us feel the impacts of this pressure and it’s natural to feel “stressed out” from time to time. This feeling can be caused by many things, trouble at work or a high work load, marriage and relationship issues, parenting or taking care of an elderly parent, financial insecurity and even “trivial” issues like traffic. Health problems also have a strong influence on our stress levels. Being told you have diabetes or any other chronic condition can cause immense emotional turmoil from being diagnosed, adjusting to the treatment or dealing with the psychological effects of the disease. Stress can also cause chronic conditions like diabetes, recent studies show that stress at work raises the risk for diabetes by 45%.

In a nutshell, stress happens when our body feels emotional or physical “danger”, whether it is life-threatening or not. As a response to this “danger” our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. That is basically preparation for dealing with this situation of danger. “Fight or flight” mode puts a lot of stress and strain on the body, causing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. This in turn raises our blood glucose levels which give the body access to immediate energy, increases our blood pressure to stream more fresh oxygen to muscles and provokes adrenaline secretion to heighten our alertness.

In diabetes the “fight or flight” response doesn’t work very well. Insulin is needed to transport elevated blood sugar into our cells for use. But as you know, in diabetes, insulin is either not produced (Type 1 diabetes) or not used effectively (Type 2 diabetes). As a result, blood sugar levels stay high as a result of stress. The extent of the impact of stress on blood sugar levels naturally varies from person to person.

Constant stress is a downward cycle for people with diabetes- difficulties in controlling blood sugar levels can simply exhaust people and cause them to neglect their diabetes care- by ignoring their sugar levels or forgetting to check them, exercising less, eating unhealthy foods, drinking alcohol and smoking- what is known as “diabetes burnout.”

How do you know if stress is affecting your diabetes management?

The best way to see if stress is affecting your diabetes management is by looking for a pattern. Rate you stress level on a scale of 1 to 10 every time you test your blood sugar levels and record the results. Add a few notes on what you are feeling. Your Dario™ smart meter can help you do this. After a few weeks you should see whether your sugar levels correspond to your stress levels and what causes the fluctuation. It’s a good idea to check blood sugar levels more frequently when you feel you are under stress. You might need to change your insulin doses during stressful periods.

How do you reduce your stress levels?

Learning how to cope with stress is very important. Some people try to change the situation that causes them stress (such as avoiding traffic areas, changing jobs, etc.). Others try to accept stressful situations as a part of life, convincing themselves that “it is not so bad.” Both of these coping methods work well.

Learning to relax is also very important. Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation therapy, yoga and meditation, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can help. Exercise and sports are great stress modulators. Sign up for the gym or start your own exercise program. Starting a new relaxing hobby can also help get your mind off things and blow off steam. Try to avoid caffeine and drink a lot of water.

No matter what you do, some sources of stress are here to stay, such as having diabetes. But reducing the stress that comes from living with diabetes is still possible. If the tips above haven’t reduced stress levels enough, try joining a support group, such as the online Dario Lounge on Facebook and meeting people that are in the same boat. Talking to your care team is also important; they can help you deal directly with the aspects of the condition which are most difficult.

Medical Disclaimer
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.