Stress is a common factor in everyday life and while some stress is normal, too much can make us sick. Diabetes development and complications are often linked to persistently high stress levels, so finding ways to effectively handle stress is a key pillar of diabetes management.
What is stress and why do we need it?
Stress is a response to a perceived threat which triggers the release of our stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. It’s intended to help us respond to external threats, like a grizzly bear. In order to run from or fight that bear, our breathing quickens, blood is pushed to our limbs and our blood pressure rises. Once the acute threat is resolved, things return to normal. However, in our modern world, stress has become a chronic state. Daily, we encounter seemingly grizzly bear-sized problems that keep stress hormones elevated and compromise our well-being.
How chronic stress affects diabetes management
Chronic stress can adversely affect diabetics in several ways:
- Directly elevates blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of complications.
- Raises blood pressure, which compromises blood vessel, heart and kidney health.
- Increases the likelihood of blood clots.
- Compromises the immune system, increasing the risk of infection.
- Increases the possibility for anxiety and/or depression.
But I’m stressed because I have diabetes!
Being diagnosed with and managing diabetes can be stressful. You may experience financial pressures, time constraints, difficulty accessing health resources and healthy foods, as well as stigma regarding chronic disease and worries about the future. Happily, stress management can make a huge difference in controlling diabetes and its complications.
Strategies for stress management
Everyone manages stress differently, but the goal is always the same: to reduce the negative health impacts of unavoidable stress. You can’t completely avoid stress, but you can develop better coping strategies, such as:
- Exercise: physical activity actually lowers your stress hormones. To see the best benefits, both mentally and physically, choose something you love to do.
- Relaxation techniques: Try practices like meditation, yoga, prayer, tai chi, journaling, breathing exercises, or biofeedback that calm the nervous system and lower stress hormones.
- Leisure activities: Engage in your favourite quiet activities like reading, crafting, painting, playing music, or spending time outdoors.
- Get enough sleep: Without restorative sleep, you become more susceptible to the influences of stress, resulting in reduced insulin sensitivity and increased blood sugar.
- Seek social support: Socializing with friends and family and communicating your goals can bolster effective stress reduction and diabetes management.
- Establish a routine: Having set times for taking medications, checking blood sugar readings, eating, sleeping and exercising can significantly minimize stress around diabetes management.
- Consider counselling: Speaking to a professional counsellor can help maintain motivation, improve coping methods and short-circuit negative self-talk.
The goal of stress management in diabetes
Stress management is an important pillar of diabetes management as it can reduce the negative effects of stress. This can help you control blood sugar, manage your weight, and improve your overall quality of life when living with diabetes.