Do you find that your blood sugars go nuts when you are stressed? Are you unsure why? Keep reading and find out how stress can impact your diabetes management.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is stress?
Stress is essentially any demand on the body; it is not inherently "bad;" lots of these demands can be for positive or fun events. Regardless of the event or situation, the stressor does put the body on alert, and demand more focus, attention and stamina until the situation or event subsides.
Stressors can be:
- Sudden (e.g., break-up; surprise quiz/test)
- Short-term (e.g., school play performance/sports event)
- Part of everyday routines (e.g., homework, sports, extracurricular activities)
- Long-term (e.g., chronic illness like diabetes, parental divorce, starting college)
- Traumatic or life-threatening (e.g., major life event like an accident, injury or natural disaster, death of a loved one)
During acute and/or short-term stressors, the body mounts a stress response; various amounts of hormones are released throughout the body so that the heart can beat faster, muscles can work harder, more oxygen is distributed throughout the organs, and a person can meet the challenge and handle the pressure ahead.
******This natural acute stress reaction that the body mounts also includes a release by the liver of extra glucose so that the body has more energy to act quickly. For someone with diabetes, this part of the stress response can contribute to unexpected high blood sugars, and complicate diabetes management.
What can I do to cope with stress?
Various cognitive and behavioral strategies can be used to cope with a stressor in order to quiet the storm of hormones, restore a sense of calm and resume normal functioning. It is a good idea to have a number of strategies at your fingertips so you can choose one that is a good fit for the situation and how you feel.
- Practice relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation)
- Break a big task into smaller, more manageable tasks
- Take a break for a few minutes to decompress (take a walk; talk/text a friend; draw/write; play with a pet); but don't procrastinate and/or avoid it
- Exercise and make healthy food choices
- Avoid excess caffeine intake, which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation
- Plan ahead when possible and prevent last minute assignments from creeping up; work with friends when you can; brainstorm and share ideas
- Try not to over-schedule and give yourself too many things to get done on a given day
- Set high, but realistic goals, instead of trying to be perfect
- Be aware of negative, defeating, self-statements that can contribute to you feeling helpless and hopeless
- Reach out and talk to a friend, family member or perhaps teacher./guidance counselor to help get your worries off of your mind so you can be productive and accomplish
- Get sufficient sleep to prevent deprivation that can increase compulsive behavior
- Seek out professional support from a therapist or counselor who can help you sort through the difficulties you might be having
When a stressor is more of a marathon than a sprint
Sometimes a stressor can be chronic and more long-term; other times the actual threat or situation might resolve, but the perceived danger doesn’t fade for a while. The body stays activated to some degree, and does not get a clear signal to relax and resume normal functioning. This may happen in the face of: 1) big school projects/mid-terms/finals/struggles with learning; 2) college applications; 3) moving one’s residence; 4) relationship stress, family conflict (e.g., parental separation/divorce, parental depression/substance abuse) or death of a loved one; 5) reminders of an accident/injury.
Certainly, diabetes (and other medical conditions) can be considered a chronic stressor given its daily demands to check blood sugars, monitor carbohydrates, and administer appropriate doses of insulin. It might be especially burdensome when other events contribute to greater fluctuations in blood sugars that are harder to manage, and add to daily frustrations.
Some signs of chronic stress are:
- Feeling tired, drained and worn out
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach cramps and/or diarrhea, skin problems, chest pain
- Excessive worry
- Irritability and mood swings
- Difficulty paying attention and concentrating
- Problems sleeping
- Frequent colds or illnesses
Lasting long-term stress sends signals to the body to stay activated on some level, which can tire and exhaust the body. Recognizing and managing stress as it occurs along the way, rather than ignoring or putting off doing something about it, can help prevent stress overload and exhaustion. If left untreated, chronic stress can lead to the development/worsening of anxiety, depression and/or other health problems. Chronic stress can also lead to reliance on poor coping strategies to “feel better” such as drug and/or alcohol use.
If you notice that you are getting "burned out" by your diabetes and discouraged by how much mental and physical energy it is taking, reach out to someone for support. If you cannot find a friend or family member, call our program and ask if we can refer you to someone.