Living with Diabetes

Diabetes and Stress

Stress results when a situation causes the body to adapt or react as if it were under attack. This is known as the fight-or-flight response. Stress may be caused by physical factors such as illness or injury, or psychological factors including unresolved relationships, financial or health problems, unresolved work issues, or exams. When the body is under stress, the levels of various hormones are raised. This stimulates the body to release stored sugar into the bloodstream, providing the cells with more energy for the fight-or-flight response.

Stress and Diabetes

The release of stress hormones antagonizes the action of insulin and helps increase blood sugar levels. Normally, the body responds to the elevated blood sugar levels by increasing insulin levels. However, the fight-or-flight response can cause problems if the person has Diabetes.
In people with Diabetes, stress can alter blood sugar levels in different ways. People with Diabetes may be unable to release enough insulin to move the extra sugar into the cells, which results in high blood sugar levels. Stress can impair the individuals’ ability to carry out Diabetes care activities, which negatively affects health outcomes. People under stress may forget to take their medications or check their blood sugar levels, or may not have time to plan healthy meals. Moreover, some people stop exercising when they are experiencing stress.
The effect of psychological or social stress on blood sugar levels may vary in Type 1 Diabetes. While most people’s blood sugar levels go up, others’ blood sugar levels drop down. In people with Type 2 Diabetes, however, psychological or social stress often increases blood sugar levels. On the other hand, physical stress, such as illness or injury, results in elevated blood sugar levels in people with either type of Diabetes.

Having Diabetes may be a source of stress for some people. Many aspects of life with Diabetes can be stressful, such as taking medications, checking blood sugar levels regularly, exercising or meal planning. Certain periods in people’s life with Diabetes can be more difficult than others such as when they are first diagnosed, when they are experiencing a life transition, when they develop Diabetes complications, and when there is a need for an intensified treatment regimen as problems with blood sugar control are identified.
Over time, whether or not the person has Diabetes, stress is harmful as it has a negative impact on many systems of the body. In addition, prolonged worry, anxiety or fear can impair the ability to think clearly and to make good decisions. The constant mental strain may also increase the risk for depression.

Dealing with Stress

Making changes to avoid some stresses of life and using suitable methods of coping with stress can be helpful in effectively managing Diabetes and stress. There are various strategies and techniques that help people control their response to stress.
Some simple and effective strategies to fight stress include starting an exercise program, joining a sports team, starting a new hobby, or volunteering at a hospital or charity. Relaxation therapy, including breathing exercises, progressive relaxation therapy, and replacing bad thoughts with good ones can also help reduce stress.
Support groups can help reduce the stress of living with Diabetes through interacting with other people who are in the same situation and learning from their experiences in coping with problems. Identifying aspects of Diabetes care that are more stressful and dealing with these issues with the help of the Diabetes care team can also be helpful. A therapist or a counselor can help people with Diabetes learn effective ways of coping with Diabetes-related stresses and methods of changing behavior towards these stresses. It is important for people with Diabetes to share their concerns and Diabetes-related issues with the Diabetes care team, who will provide the required support and will refer them to specialists when needed.