The impact of stress on diabetes cannot be underestimated. Chronic stress from a busy lifestyle can increase the risk of developing diabetes, or worsen the condition of people who have diabetes. Our fast-paced lifestyle pressures – whether from daily commuting, workplace challenges, or from family and social responsibilities – can take control over our time, as well as our physical and emotional resources. These stressors can also contribute to increased blood sugar levels.
When faced with a stressful situation beyond our control, the brain releases two hormones: cortisol and adrenalin. These hormones raise blood sugar levels to help increase energy, so we can react to danger or a life-threatening challenge. This allows us to engage in our “fight-or-flight” response. If our blood sugar levels remained low, we wouldn’t have the energy to react to the danger.
However, when the brain is bombarded with a daily onslaught of overwhelmingly stressful situations, it begins to pump out these hormones in excess, throwing off the body’s other systems and increasing the risk of illness.
Research has shown that high levels of cortisol and adrenalin change the way the body stores fat, leading to higher rates of obesity. In turn, substantial weight gain can lead to increased insulin resistance and higher blood sugar levels, which can result in diabetes.
To curb the increase in blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should understand the early signs of excess stress and learn how to cope with their stressors.
Early signs of excess stress can include any of the following:
- Physical: Fatigue, muscle tension, headache, insomnia
- Psychological: Short temper, feeling worried, making poor decisions
- Behavioural: Compulsive eating, excessive drinking, smoking, blaming others, being argumentative.
Learning how to cope with stressors is a key component to lowering blood sugar levels and feeling healthy. There are a number of coping strategies you can consider, including listening to your body and acknowledging stressful triggers. You can then either avoid a stressful situation, or learn how to relax and breathe through the tension. This process is part of a program referred to as mindfulness-based stress reduction. You can read more about it here.
Other proven strategies for reducing stress include positive affirmations and exercise. Participating in yoga, tai chi and Pilates classes can be helpful. Learn more about physical activity strategies here. Talking to a supportive friend, or attending a support group or therapeutic session with a therapist are also good methods of coping with stressors. Learn more about support groups here.
Finally, diabetes education can be an important strategy to help you reduce your stress levels. Consider attending a learning session with a friend or loved one at your Diabetes Education Centre. By learning the facts about diabetes, anxieties may be lessened. Due to the importance of self-care, learning to manage the disease is also a primary stress reduction tool in and of itself. Learn more about Diabetes Education Centres and the members of your diabetes healthcare team here.
High stress levels can be a contributing factor to a diabetes diagnosis, and can negatively affect individuals with diabetes and their caregivers. By learning to cope with stressors, quality of life can be improved.