Everyone has stress in their lives, whether or not they have diabetes. However, there is some evidence that stress can cause diabetes, and can also worsen blood sugar control in people who have the condition. Read about stress and diabetes in this article.
Can stress cause diabetes?
Stress does not cause type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin.
However, some research suggests that stress may be associated with the development of type 2 diabetes. Chronic stress is known to have a number of physical effects on the body. It can lead to a reduced immune response and increase the risk of infections. Chronic stress also impairs the ability of the body to metabolize glucose, which can in turn lead to type 2 diabetes.
A recent large review of type 2 diabetes studies found that emotional stress and anxiety were associated with an increased risk of this condition. It’s important to note, though, that there are a number of more common – and significant – risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including: being overweight; being age 40 or older; having a sedentary lifestyle; and having a family history of the disease.
Can stress worsen diabetes control?
In people with diabetes, emotional or mental stress can alter blood glucose levels in two ways:
- People under stress may not take good care of themselves. They may drink more alcohol or exercise less often, or stop taking their diabetes medications. They may also forget, or not have time, to check their glucose levels or plan healthy meals.
- Stress can also alter blood sugar levels. Stress can cause the body to release epinephrine (adrenaline) and other hormones, such as glucagon and cortisol. Because of this, more glucose is released from the liver and the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. This is what causes blood sugar levels to rise.
What types of stressors do you have in your life?
Stress is a part of life, whether or not you have diabetes. Common sources of stress include work duties and responsibilities (for example, working long hours, or meeting difficult deadlines). Family commitments can also be a great source of stress (for example, caring for a spouse, children, grandchildren or parents).
Diabetes itself brings with it a number of everyday stresses, all of which can take a toll on your emotional and mental health. Common stresses associated with diabetes include:
- Managing your medication regimen.
- Testing blood sugars regularly.
- Preparing healthy meals.
- Making sure that you get enough physical activity.
The amount of attention that must be paid to all of these responsibilities can seem overwhelming.
How can you reduce stress in your life?
Prolonged stress can lead to other psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety and diabetes distress. That’s why it’s important to reduce the stresses in your life as much as possible. There are many ways to manage stress levels – both in the moment and over the long term. Here are some tips for stress reduction.
1. Practice relaxation techniques.
Whether you perform deep breathing exercises, yoga or meditation, [LINK TO NEW MEDITATION ARTICLE] these relaxation exercises have been proven to decrease activity in the stress centres of the brain. Performing these exercises regularly – ideally, twice a day (morning and evening), can help keep you stress levels in check.
2. Get some exercise.
Physical activity is a great way to release stress from your body. A quick walk or jog, dancing and bicycling are all excellent ways to reduce stress. To make exercise more fun, move along with music. Choose an activity that you enjoy, and make it a routine!
3. Take a break from the busy world.
Taking time for yourself every day can help you feel calm, and can also give you the opportunity to think about the stresses in your life and how you can cope. Think about what soothes you, and try to incorporate it into your daily activities, for example:
- Run yourself a warm (not too hot!) bath and relax in the soothing warmth.
- Listen to your favourite music, while you sing or hum along.
- Sit down with a good book or magazine and read a few pages.
4. Ask for help.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, reach out to a trusted confidante. Friends and family members – the people who know you best – can provide generous support when you feel overwhelmed. Remember, diabetes is your journey, but it’s not yours alone – sharing your feelings and experiences with others can help you manage your diabetes to the best of your ability.
5. Find a support group.
There are a number of diabetes support groups across Canada. Many of them are run by community healthcare clinics or hospitals. Ask your healthcare team if they can recommend a diabetes support group for you, or contact Diabetes Canada for a support group in your area.
By taking control of the stress in your life, you can help ease it.