Stress and Diabetes

Both positive and negative situations can be stressful. Major life stresses, such as illness or a death in the family, are stressful events. Positive and new events, such as marriage, a new baby or a new job can also cause a stress response. Minor life stresses are the normal pressures of daily life, such as work deadlines, heavy traffic, phone calls or doctor visits. Holidays and vacations can cause stress.

Too much stress can lead to health problems. Stress increases blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. When stressed, the immune system cannot fight disease well. Reducing stress or coping with it in a positive way, is important.

How do you respond to stress physically? Your body responds to stress by raising your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and blood sugar levels. Sometimes the symptoms of stress and low blood sugar are similar. Your blood sugar rises to give your brain and muscles energy. This is called the "fight or flight" response. If energy is not used to fight or run away, it can leave you feeling tense or cause headaches.

Stress makes controlling diabetes harder. In people with diabetes, their "fight or flight" response does not work like it should. Insulin may not be able to carry the sugar into the cells, so sugar remains in the blood. This causes a high blood sugar and ketone levels may rise.

Some people have a drop in blood sugar due to an increased intake of alcohol or skipping meals. The result of stress may be unstable blood sugar and ketone levels. If stress happens often, blood sugar and ketone levels may fluctuate. Some people are less able to deal with stress when their blood sugar is out of control.

Everyone responds to stress in a different way. This is called coping. A variety of methods are needed to cope with different situations. Learning to handle stress in a positive way is an important part of leading a healthy life.

Tips for managing stress:

  • To get a better idea of how you handle stress, keep a record. Write down what the stress was, how you reacted, how you felt during and after the stressful event. Did your blood sugar rise? By knowing what causes stress, you will be more in control. You can learn what to do to help decrease stressful situations.
  • Do less. Are you doing too much at home, work or in the community? Review a typical day or week and make a list of your tasks. Set aside some time daily for yourself.
  • Examine your thoughts about diabetes and other stressful events in your life. Your thoughts can affect your feelings and how you act.
  • Stay away from stressful events.
  • Redirect your reaction to stress. Use up the energy by doing daily exercise. Walking, swimming, biking and jogging are great ways to release tension and help you feel better. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Learn how to relax. Try meditation, yoga, biofeedback, deep breathing or visual imagery. These activities relieve tension by allowing your muscles to relax.
  • Massage therapy can be helpful to ease muscle tension, improve circulation, lower heart rate and blood pressure. It can relax your whole body.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Laughter releases endorphins and helps to decrease stress levels.
  • Support groups are helpful for some people. Sometimes just being with people who have problems similar to yours helps to reduce stress.

Talk with your doctor if you need help in finding a behavioral health specialist.