It is important to manage stress when you have diabetes

People with diabetes need to actively manage stress levels to keep blood sugar within a healthy range.

Why is stress so harmful?

It is well known that stress can cause physical and mental changes, such as headaches, muscle tension, mood swings, negative thoughts, changes in sleeping patterns as well as eating patterns, irregular heartbeats, etc. One can also feel tired or fatigued, depressed and less able to cope with the challenges of daily living.

According to the book Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions by Dr. Kate Lorig, for those who suffer from diabetes, too much stress can cause their bodies to produce hormones which lead to an increase in blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is important for people with diabetes to recognize when stress is becoming a problem so they can regain control and lower both their stress and blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association says that, in addition to altering the blood glucose levels directly in people with diabetes, people under stress may not take good care of themselves. They may drink more alcohol or exercise less. They also may forget to check their glucose levels or plan good meals.

What are some safe and healthy ways to deal with stress?

The Stanford University Chronic Disease Self-Management Program for Diabetes tells us that there are many healthy strategies for stress control available to us.

  • Exercise: Lowers stress hormones and blood glucose levels.
  • Journaling: Research shows that getting stressful thoughts and feelings on paper reduces harmful stress levels.
  • Talk with a trusted friend or counselor: This is another excellent way to release stressful, worrisome thoughts and feelings out in the open.
  • Laughter: There’s nothing like a funny movie or a cheerful time with friends or family to get your mind off difficult thoughts and feelings – and it could change your physical response as well. It is well known that laughter reduces stress hormones in the blood and can help to reduce blood glucose levels.
  • Meditation and prayer: Connecting with any religious and/or spiritual beliefs or calmly reflecting can be a positive source for stress reduction.
  • Relaxation exercises: Progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, visualization and gentle stretching exercises like yoga, tai chi and qi gong provide a welcome respite from chronic or acute stress. There are many wonderful relaxation DVDs on the market. Research some options online and find one that will work for you.

 The American Diabetes Association reminds us that we can take charge of our stress levels in two important ways:

  1. We can make changes when we become aware that something bothers us. If traffic upsets you, for example, maybe you can find a new route to work or leave home early enough to miss the traffic jams. If your job drives you crazy, apply for a transfer if you can, or possibly discuss with your boss how to improve things. As a last resort, you can look for another job. If you are at odds with a friend or relative, you can make the first move to patch things up. For such problems, stress may be a sign that something needs to change.
  2. We can cultivate an effective coping style. Coping is how a person deals with stress. For example, some people have a problem-solving attitude. They say to themselves, "What can I do about this problem?" They try to change their situation to get rid of the stress. Other people talk themselves into accepting the problem as OK. They say to themselves, "This problem really isn't so bad after all." These two methods of coping are usually helpful. People who use them tend to have less blood glucose elevation in response to mental stress.

Some people say that they use alcohol to reduce stress. Michigan State University Extension stresses that if you have diabetes, it’s important to know that alcohol can lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which diabetics want to avoid. Alcohol can also lead to other health problems such as poor sleep, and it is a depressant. Consequently, it is not a healthy choice for managing stress.

Find out more ways to cope with stress in general and with the stress of dealing with diabetes at the American Diabetes Association website. For more information about managing type 2 diabetes, visit the National Diabetes Education Program website.

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