Stress is a potential contributor to chronic hyperglycemia in diabetes. When stress occurs, the body prepares to take action, chemicals and hormones surge throughout our body. The net effect of this response is to make a lot of stored energy (glucose and fat) available to cells. This is called the fight or flight response. In Diabetics, the fight or flight response does not work well due to lack of insulin.
For the past so many years, physicians and patients have noted that the onset of diabetes often is preceded by some significant life stress. Some evidence does suggest that stress may precipitate the onset of the disease or compromise glycemic control once the disease is established.
Many long-term sources of stress are mental. Your mind sometimes reacts to a harmless event as if it were a real threat. Like physical stress, mental stress can be short term: from taking a test to getting stuck in a traffic jam. It can also be long term: from working for a demanding boss to taking care of an aging parent. With mental stress, the body pumps out hormones to no avail. Neither fighting nor fleeing is any help when the “enemy” is your own mind.
In people with diabetes, stress can alter blood glucose levels in two ways:
- People under stress may not take good care of themselves. They may drink more alcohol or exercise less. They may forget, or not have time, to check their glucose levels or plan good meals.
- Stress hormones may also alter blood glucose levels directly.
Do try this small exercise and find out whether stress affects your glucose control:
It’s easy to find out whether mental stress affects your glucose control. Before checking your glucose levels, write down a number rating your mental stress level on a scale of 1 to 10. Then write down your glucose level next to it. After a week or two, look for a pattern. Drawing a graph may help you see trends better. Do high-stress levels often occur with high glucose levels and low-stress levels with low glucose levels? If so, stress may affect your glucose control.
Dealing with Diabetes related stress:
Some sources of stress are never going to go away, no matter what you do. Having diabetes is one of those. Still, there are ways to reduce the stress of living with diabetes. Support groups can help. Knowing other people in the same situation helps you feel less alone. You can also learn other people’s hints for coping with problems. Making friends in a support group can lighten the burden of diabetes-related stresses.
Think about the aspects of life with diabetes that are the most stressful for you. It might be taking your medication, or checking your blood glucose levels regularly, or exercising, or eating as you should. If you need help with any of these issues, ask a member of your diabetes team or connect with our diabetes educators on board.