Is stress making your glucose levels impossible to control?

The link between stress and controlling glucose levels is a very interesting but sometimes tough topic for diabetics to discuss. Being stressed can make it incredibly hard for diabetics to control their glucose levels due to the physiological impact stress has on the body.

I’m sure pretty much every person reading this with diabetes has had a period where life has been unbelievably stressful, and it feels like nothing you do gets your sugars under control.

Believe me, I have been there… When I went through my exams at school, my sugar levels were the highest they have ever been, despite exercising a lot and making sure I carb counted vigorously. It honestly felt like my sugars were never going to come down again. It’s a vicious cycle, I would feel more and more stressed the longer my readings were out of range, and guess what!… My sugar levels increased even more.

So the question is, what can we do to prevent our glucose from sky rocketing during stressful periods?

First of all, lets start with the basic scientific background of how the body reacts to stress.

What physiologically happens to the body when we are feeling stressed?

When we are feeling stressed, our body prepares us for the ‘fight or flight response’. The hormones cortisol and adrenaline play a big role in this preparation.

Many physiological changes will occur to the body during ‘fight or flight’, for example an increased heart rate, increased blood flow to muscles, increased blood pressure, and increased blood glucose.

The hormone cortisol is essentially in charge of increasing energy levels when we are in a state of stress, in the form of glucose. This means that long-term stress can result and contribute to long-term hyperglycaemia.

How does this stress response impact a diabetics sugar levels?

For a diabetic, chronic stress can have a major impact on sugar levels. If cortisol levels are constantly running high, this means glucose levels will also be running high.

In simple terms, the hormone cortisol counteracts insulin. Cortisol is working to increase glucose levels, and insulin is working to reduce glucose levels. Chronic stress and high cortisol can also lead to insulin resistance, contributing to a large scale problem.

So, it could take A LOT of insulin to overcome the impacts of cortisol on the body, and there is not really a way of calculating how much insulin would be required to overcome this state, without the risk of a hypo hours later. Therefore, the easiest way to resolve this problem is to just reduce the levels of cortisol in your blood by decreasing your stress load.

Sounds a bit too easy put that way right? Keep reading for tips on how to reduce your stress load.

Tips on how to lower your stress load

  1. Identify EXACTLY what is causing you stress:
    Stop what you are doing for a minute, take a breath, and ask yourself, what exactly am I feeling stressed about?
  • Is it anxiety over hypos? Anxiety over the potential long term complications of diabetes? Is it your job? Is it just that you’re run down and need some down time? Is it a combination of many factors?
  • Whether you identify one factor, or many, remember there is absolutely no shame in how you are feeling. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to reduce your stress and you will quickly notice a difference in your overall mood and glucose!
  • Once you have identified each factor causing you stress, write all of them down. Come up with a method for each point to reduce your stress load over the next few weeks.
  • For example, if you are incredibly stressed due to exams, put together a revision programme and get yourself organised. Breaking everything down makes each task seem smaller, and more achievable.
  1. Get to know YOUR body:
    Your body will never react completely in the same way as someone else’s!
  • Having the ability to identify when you are starting to feel overwhelmed is incredibly useful, this way you can help to prevent yourself from entering a phase where you suffer from chronic stress.
  • Furthermore, being aware of certain foods that cause your levels to spike rapidly, making sure you are drinking enough water and getting adequate sleep are all vital components in handling stress.
  1. Find methods that calm you down:
    Sometimes it is just the little things that can really help to ease your stress and anxiety.
  • For instance, write yourself little notes around your house that remind you that you are doing a good job, or remind you to take five deep breaths.
  • Watch a wide variety of Youtube videos based on decreasing stress.
  • Some more examples could be stretching, colouring in, reading, writing, exercising, anything that you enjoy, find something that is unique to you.
  1. Focus on NOW, not the future:
    To put it bluntly, if you are constantly worrying about the potential long-term complications of hyperglycaemia and chronic stress, it is only going to make you more stressed.
  • So instead, try to bring your mind away from the future, focus on what you can do now to help your health.
  • Treat your current hyper and do something relaxing. My favourite thing to do is to go for a long, slow walk. This helps me to bring my glucose back in range, and also helps me to clear my head. Just remember to take a snack incase you rebound into a hypo.
  1. Finally, speak to someone:
    I know everyone says talking to someone can really help, and I know it can feel very daunting the first time you decide to speak up. But you’ll soon find out you are not alone.
  • Find someone you trust, a friend, a family member, a therapist, a diabetic specialist, someone from the diabetic community and tell them what you are struggling with and what that person can do to help you. People cannot help you if they don’t know you are struggling.
  • Once you get something off of your chest, you feel a little lighter and it helps to put things into perspective for you.
  • Ask yourself, are these thoughts really helping me to achieve my goals?
  • If the answer is a firm no, then that is a sign that you need to change your perspective on the topic.

Further Reading on this topic!

I hope this blog was useful! Let me know what you found interesting and other blogs you would like to see!

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