Diabetes and Stress: Why It’s Important to Manage Both?

Approximately 66% of all people suffering from type 2 diabetes experience high stress levels, which can both be a consequence of and/or a contributor to diabetes. Keeping stress levels under control can be quite helpful in managing diabetes. For this reason, every effective diabetes management program includes measures to counter stress. Read on to learn more about the relationship between stress and diabetes and the importance of stress management in diabetes care.

What is Stress?

Stress refers to the response of your body and mind to any particular situation. Sometimes, it is temporary like feeling anxious before a big presentation or worrying about an upcoming meeting at work. On the other hand, it can also be long-term caused by something serious such as an illness or an accident. In many cases, people are also constantly stressed about some aspect of their lives like relationships, financial problems, or the loss of a loved one. Whatever the reason, stress can have an adverse impact on an individual’s physical, mental and emotional health.

How Does Stress Affect Diabetes?

High stress levels can adversely affect diabetes in many different ways.

Stress Can Raise Blood Sugar Levels

During stressful circumstances, the body produces stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream. These hormones trigger the body’s flight or fight response to help you get through a challenging situation. This causes your breathing to speed up and your heart rate to increase. As a result, more sugar is released to supply all the systems of your body with enough energy.

Stress Affects the Body’s Metabolism

People who deal with chronic stress often experience weight gain, particularly around their bellies. This is referred to as a stress belly. This happens because the increase in cortisol levels due to stress boosts your appetite. Moreover, high cortisol levels can make you crave sweet, fatty, and salty foods, causing you to eat more and more unhealthy food and leading to fat accumulation.

Stress Causes Insulin Resistance

Insulin is a hormone produced by your body to keep blood sugar levels under control. However, prolonged stress and an increase in cortisol levels can make it challenging for your pancreas to release an adequate amount of insulin required for channelising excess glucose and converting it into energy. This can lead to an increase in sugar levels, which in turn, can cause several other health issues. This is called insulin resistance, which worsens the condition of people suffering from diabetes and makes non-diabetics more susceptible to pre-diabetes.

Stress Disrupts Sleep and Reduces Glucose Tolerance

Stress often leads to anxiety and tension, disrupting your peace of mind and making it difficult for you to sleep soundly through the night. According to research, getting at least 6 – 8 hours of sleep is essential for ensuring good health. Not getting enough sleep can result in glucose intolerance, which is a condition that makes the body unable to dispose of excess glucose. Glucose intolerance can lead to or worsen type 2 diabetes.

Stress Leads to an Unhealthy Lifestyle

High levels of stress can lead to the development of unhealthy lifestyle habits such as lack of exercise, eating unhealthy foods, excessive alcohol intake, and smoking. These unhealthy habits can result in an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes or worsen the condition in those who already suffer from it

Since stress can worsen this disease in so many ways, managing stress in diabetes should be a priority for everyone suffering from this condition.

Can Stress Cause Diabetes?

There is still plenty of research being conducted to determine whether or not stress can cause diabetes. However, many studies offer sufficient evidence that stress considerably increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. High stress levels for a prolonged period can impair the function of insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. Moreover, people suffering from stress tend to overeat and gain weight. Since obesity is another major risk factor for diabetes, the connection between stress and this disease is clear.

Does Only ‘Negative Stress’ Affect Diabetes?

Not all kinds of stress elicit negative emotions like worry, anxiety, and tension. Sometimes, stress is also caused by happy and exciting events like getting a huge promotion, planning a wedding, or relocating to a new city. Even the stress caused by these positive life changes can affect your blood sugar levels.

This is because these ‘happy stressors’ also raise the levels of stress hormones in your blood, resulting in high sugar levels. For this reason, if you are at risk of developing diabetes or you already suffer from the condition, then it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels, especially during any significant event or milestone.

The relationship between stress and diabetes is a two-way street. As already established, high stress levels can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or deteriorate the condition if it already exists. However, this effect goes the other way around as well.

Further, having and managing diabetes can cause much stress and emotional burden. For instance, a study involving 100 patients suffering from type 2 diabetes showed that 60% of these patients experience emotional burdens caused by the disease. And, 52% of these patients suffer from regimen distress. This is because the lifestyle changes they have to make, like exercising regularly, following a strict diet, practising relaxation techniques, monitoring blood glucose levels regularly, and taking medications, can put a lot of stress on an individual.

Furthermore, some diabetics are constantly worried about hypoglycemia, which is a condition where blood sugar levels swiftly decrease to less than 70 mg/dL. This is referred to as hypo anxiety. All in all, experiencing stress in diabetes is quite common and can be just as difficult to manage as the disease itself.

Join a Diabetes Management Program to Help with Stress and Diabetes

If you suffer from diabetes, then managing your stress levels is vital to prevent your blood sugar levels from rising. Whether the source of your stress is the disease itself or some other external factors related to your personal or professional life, addressing it is necessary for effective diabetes management.

Many people think ignoring their stress or pretending to not be stressed will help. However, it does the opposite by exacerbating the problem. It is much more advisable to seek the advice of a Clinical Psychologist or an expert Diabetes Educator. This can prove to be quite helpful in controlling both your stress levels and your blood sugar levels.

You can try enrolling in a multidisciplinary diabetes management program, which can help significantly in managing your diabetes and stress together. Choose a program that allows you to take guidance from experts like a Diabetes Educator, Clinical Psychologist, Certified Physiotherapist, and Nutritionist. Together, these experts can provide you with 360-degree care focusing on all 3 critical aspects of diabetes management – nutrition, physical activity, and stress management.

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