HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT
Diabetes management is a lifelong process. This can add stress to your daily life. Stress can be a major barrier to effective glucose control. Constant stress from long-term problems with blood glucose can also wear you down mentally and physically. This may make managing your diabetes difficult, thus, creating a Vicious Cycle.
Stress and your Hormones
If you are experiencing stress or feeling threatened, your body reacts. This is called the fight-or-flight response. This response elevates your hormone levels and causes your nerve cells to fire. Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone. It can stimulate the production of glucose in the body and raise a person’s blood sugar.
During this response, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream and your respiratory rates increase. Your body directs blood to the muscles and limbs, allowing you to fight the situation. Your body may not be able to process the excess glucose released if you have diabetes. If you cannot convert the glucose into energy, it builds up in the bloodstream. This causes your blood glucose levels to rise or spike!
Stress can activate the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system. This can cause hormonal changes, such as higher cortisol levels and lower levels of sex hormones. The levels of these hormones affect insulin levels.
People with abnormal hormone levels may notice their Waist-To-Hip Ratio increasing, this means that the size of the waist is becoming larger than the hips with increased adipose tissue. This is an important risk factor for complications of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Sometimes, the symptoms of stress are subtle and you may not notice them. Stress can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being, and it can also impact your physical health. Recognising the symptoms can help you identify stress and take steps to manage it.
If you’re stressed, you may experience:
- muscle pain or tension
- sleeping too much or too little
- general feelings of illness
If you’re stressed, you may feel:
How can you determine if mental stress is affecting your glucose levels?
Keeping track of additional information, such as the date and what you were doing at the time you were stressed, may help you determine specific triggers. For example, are you more stressed on Monday mornings? If so, you know now to take special steps on Monday mornings to lower your stress and keep your glucose in check.
You can figure out if this is happening to you by capturing your stress and glucose levels. If you feel stressed, rate your level of mental stress on a scale from one to 10 with 10 representing the highest level of stress. This will be useful if you decide to see a therapist.
After rating your stress, you should check your glucose levels. Continue doing this for the next couple of weeks. Before long, you may see a pattern emerge. If you notice that your glucose is consistently high, it’s likely that your mental stress is negatively affecting your blood sugar.
How to cope with diabetes-related stress
If you’re feeling stressed about your condition, acknowledging that you aren’t alone is the FIRST STEP. The next step may involve your health care team. We encourage all patients to feel comfortable in being open about your stressors with your health care physician.
WHAT CAN YOU DO AT HOME?
- Reducing mental stress
- Meditating can help remove negative thoughts and allow your mind to relax.
- Consider starting each morning with a 15-minute meditation. This will set the tone for the rest of your day.
- Sit in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor and your eyes closed.
- Recite a mantra that makes sense to you, such as “I will have a good day” or “I feel at peace with the world.” Push away any other thoughts as they enter your head, and allow yourself to be present in the moment.
Reducing emotional stress
If you find yourself in an overwhelming emotional state, TAKE A PAUSE…take a few minutes to be by yourself. Remove yourself from your current environment. Find a quiet space to focus on your breathing. Try this mindfulness practice:
Put your hand on your belly, and feel it rise and fall. Inhale deep breaths, and exhale slowly and loudly. This will slow your heartbeat down, and help bring you back to a stable emotional state. This act of centring yourself may improve how you deal with whatever is causing the stress.
Reducing physical stress
Adding yoga to your daily routine can provide both physical activity and meditation at the same time. Practicing yoga can lower your blood pressure, too. Whether it’s yoga or another form of exercise, you should aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day. You can do 10 minutes of exercise when you wake up, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes before you go to sleep.
YOUR MIND MATTERS
Although diabetes can present a unique set of challenges when complicated by stress, it is possible to manage it effectively and lead a happy, healthy lifestyle. Understanding the dimensions of stress and practical coping strategies to protect your mind is key to controlling the debilitating sequelae of Diabetes.