How stress affects type 2 diabetes more than you realize


Each day all of us experience stress – some good and some bad.  Examples of “good” stress might be the birth of a child or planning a family vacation.  These types of stress add dimension and excitement to our lives.  Examples of “bad” stress might be going through a divorce or the death of a loved one. These types of stress are often unexpected and unsettling.

Whether good or bad, short-term or long, stress is a physiological response our body experiences to a perceived attack or an event producing tension in our body.   

When we feel stress, our body behaves by reacting in the “fight or flight” response, releasing adrenal gland or stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine.  As these hormones surge through our body, our heart rate and blood pressure rise.  In addition the stress hormones cause our blood sugar called glucose to escalate to high levels in order to feed our cells helping our body react quickly when it feels threatened.

For people with diabetes, the release of extra glucose can work against them as the hormone insulin isn’t always available to unlock the cells to get the extra glucose out of the bloodstream.  This means excess glucose continues to circulate in the bloodstream causing blood sugar levels to skyrocket and remain high causing health issues.   

Stress can be harmful for anyone but for someone with type 2 diabetes, chronic, long-term stress is demanding on the body making it difficult to regulate normal blood glucose levels.  Type 2 diabetes is best controlled by balancing diet, exercise, and medication.  Stress easily upsets this balance leading to uncontrolled diabetes which can result in serious health complications associated with this disease.  The health complications can range from kidney disease, nerve damage, poor circulation in legs and arms, blindness and cardiovascular disease. 

Signs of stress

When blood glucose levels are high due to stress, your body responds in various ways.  Being able to recognize stress is the first step in dealing with it.  Here are some ways your body may show it is under stress:

·      Clenched teeth

·      Tiredness

·      Feeling discouraged

·      Self-criticism

·      Headaches

·      Hunched, tight shoulders

·      Nervous laughter

·      Stiffness or tightness in the neck

·      Problems sleeping

·      Sweating

·      Tight mouth or jaw

·      Tightened fists

·      Twitching

·      Upset stomach

·      Feeling helpless

How to manage and cope with stress

The pressures of stress often cause people to not take good care of themselves causing them to deal with stress in negative ways.  If a person has type 2 diabetes they may respond to stress by drinking more alcohol, not exercising, not checking blood glucose levels, not taking medications and eating an unhealthy meal plan. 

Having diabetes takes a regular, daily routine in order to live well with this condition.   When they make their health a priority this can help them avoid serious health complications.  

Living well with diabetes and managing stress should include the following:

·      Prevent or avoid stress

This is often easier said than done but by preventing or avoiding negative people or situations it is a step in the less stressful direction.  At the very least, practice on controlling how you react to a stressful situation by not overreacting or getting angry.

·      Learn to relax

Practicing relaxation therapy can be very helpful in dealing with stress.  Take in a deep breath, pushing out as much air as you can repeating this for 5 to 20 minutes to help calm nerves.  Thinking more positively throughout the day can often lead to positive results.  Practice saying “I can,” “I will,” or “I’ll give it a try.” Spending time outdoors, getting a massage or practicing meditation can all be ways of letting go and relaxing.

·      Finding support or someone to talk to

Being able to open up with someone you trust during times of stress can be a way to “think aloud” and come up with solutions on dealing with problems.  Make sure you’re willing to listen to suggestions and advice when you do talk with someone about your stressful situations.

Another great way to talk with others is through a diabetes support group.  This allows you to meet other people with the same kind of challenges you face who understand what you’re going through.  Find a support group through a local or national diabetes organization. 

·      Exercise

One of the cornerstones of treating diabetes is exercise.  Having a planned exercise program not only relieves stress but also helps control weight and blood sugar levels.  Find exercise you enjoy doing so you’ll stick with it.  Consider adding yoga or pilates to your exercise routine as they are known for their stress-relieving moves.

·      Find humor in situations

Where would we be without a sense of humor?  Finding humor in everyday situations may be challenging at times, but learning to laugh at ourselves or a situation can tremendously help reduce stress and tension. 

·      Take time for yourself

Each day, find at least 15-30 minutes just for you.  Learning to enjoy life’s pleasures is a way of treating yourself while feeling less pressure to make everyone else happy.  Make a list of different ways to accomplish this - it could be reading a book, going to a movie, going for a walk, listening to music or trying out a new hobby. 

·      Eat a healthy diet

Food choices make a huge difference for all of us but particularly when it comes to managing diabetes.  Nutrition is the cornerstone of treating diabetes but it can be a challenge.  Make an appointment with a registered dietitian to review your meal plan.  They can make suggestions giving you new ideas to help control blood glucose during stressful situations. 

Final thoughts

Life is not perfect so there will always be stressful events to contend with.  Dealing with stress in a positive and productive manner can go a long ways in alleviating stress helping keep blood glucose levels in a more normal range. 

By not taking our health for granted, we can focus on the important task of keeping diabetes under control even during stressful times of our lives.