Manage Stress to Manage Diabetes

It is becoming increasingly evident that the mind and body affect the functioning and wellbeing of each other. The mind affects the body, the body affects the mind, and sometimes both conspire and wreak havoc in your life. I’m talking about chronic health conditions, and specifically diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the most common health concerns that people come to me with. For some, blood sugar levels are under control with the help of medication and lifestyle changes, and for others, they are not. Many of these people have high levels of stress.

Recent studies show that stress can contribute to diabetes in a number of ways, ranging from directly affecting blood glucose levels to impacting behaviour in a detrimental way. An article by the American Diabetes Society explores the relationship between stress and diabetes and concludes that stress does affect diabetes, in terms of both onset and exacerbation. How?

Increased blood glucose

Stress activates a part of the nervous system known as the sympathetic nervous system. This is the fight-or-flight mode. Your body thinks you’re in real physical danger and prepares to run or fight. Part of this preparation is the release of a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol causes glucose to be released into the blood stream, increasing blood sugar levels. We usually don’t want that. If your boss is yelling at you, you can’t exactly fight or flee, and that extra glucose is not used up.

Insulin resistance

If this stress is persistent, if you are regularly stressed out, your blood glucose levels stay elevated. Cells may become resistant to insulin if they don’t need this extra glucose, and over time insulin resistance builds. And insulin resistance leads to a loss of ability to take glucose from the blood stream into the cells, forming a cycle that is hard to break.

Increased abdominal fat:

This study at Yale shows that stress increases abdominal fat. Cortisol itself leads to an increase in visceral fat. It triggers an enzyme that relocates fat cells from storage sites around the body to fatty deposits in the abdominal area, and abdominal fat has been associated with diabetes.

Behavioural affects of stress:

Stress can lead to poor lifestyle choices like reduced physical activity, a poor diet, and trouble with self-care practices, all of which can affect glycemic control. Stress is also a common cause for smoking, which has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes. The CDC says that smokers are 30-40% more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers.

Stress Management

While stress is not the only factor in diabetes control, stress management can certainly help. There are tons of articles about how you can manage stress, here are a few simple ways:

  • Remove the stressor. This seems like a no-brainer but if you stop and take a look at your life, I’m sure you will find sources of stress that you can eliminate.

  • Try mindfulness. This could be in the form of yoga, tai chi, meditation. Not only will this reduce stress, it will also teach you to be more aware of it.

  • Spend time with people you care about, friends, family, etc.

  • Exercise. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels and promote positive mental health.

  • Get a good amount of sleep, at least 6-8 hours. You might even need more than that. I need 10 hours to function well.

  • Find a means of expression. This could be art, journaling, music, or any other creative outlet.

  • Try to change your relationship with events that happen around you. You can be in the same environment without getting stressed out.

  • Breathe. Pause. Take three deep breaths right now.

  • Lastly, if you need to, don’t hesitate to seek the help of a mental health professional.

Remember that learning to manage stress can take time, especially if is chronic. Be patient and kind to yourself. Take it slow. Soon you’ll start seeing that you are doing better.


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