Diabetes and Stress Management

Stress is known to cause numerous negative effects if left unmanaged. For people with diabetes, stress management is even more crucial than it is for healthy individuals because it can directly exacerbate diabetes complications and symptoms.

Stefan Hartmann

2022 Sep 16

9 min read

Stress is known to cause numerous negative effects if left unmanaged. For people with diabetes, stress management is even more crucial than it is for healthy individuals because it can directly exacerbate diabetes complications and symptoms.

Some consequences of chronic stress include inefficient blood sugar control, increased risk of various health problems, and even obesity.

Unfortunately, diabetes management is stressful in and of itself. Insulin therapy, blood sugar control, and weight management are only some of the aspects diabetes patients need to pay attention to, and it can get overwhelming.

Luckily, there are various techniques for managing stress.

This article will explore the relationship between diabetes and stress management in detail. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Consequences of stress
  • Common sources of stress
  • Stress management techniques

Let’s get started.

Consequences of Stress

Diabetes and Stress

Stress can affect your health in many ways. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Stress Affects Blood Sugar Levels

Blood glucose control is one of the most important aspects of managing diabetes. Unfortunately, it can be affected by stress.

When stressed, the body prepares itself for a “fight or flight” response by releasing hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and glucagon. 

These hormones make it harder for insulin to work properly, exacerbating insulin resistance while simultaneously releasing extra glucose from the liver. This causes blood glucose levels to rise. 

Chronic Stress Leads to an Increased Risk of Health Conditions

It is well-known that chronic stress negatively affects the immune system, making the body more susceptible to developing a wide range of illnesses. 

This is especially problematic for patients with diabetes because they’re already at high risk of developing serious health conditions. 

More significantly, it has been proven that stress is directly related to illnesses like high blood pressure and heart disease. Unfortunately, people with diabetes are at increased risk of developing these conditions even when not under stress. 

Finally, stress can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, which people with diabetes are also at high risk for.

Stress Can Lead To Unhealthy Behaviors

Some individuals cope with stress in unhealthy ways. 

They may engage in emotional eating (eating food for emotional comfort rather than physical hunger). Emotional eating can lead to additional stress due to feelings of shame and guilt and low self-esteem.

Stress can also lead to an increase in sedentary behavior. While individual effects vary, this makes sense theoretically in numerous ways. 

For starters, stress can lead individuals to seek out sedentary activities such as watching TV and over-using smartphones as a form of pleasure and distraction. 

Stress can also cause depression and anxiety (making it harder to commit to a consistent exercise routine) and insomnia, which can cause daytime fatigue, making it challenging to perform physical activities. 

Both emotional eating and sedentary behavior can lead to weight gain, further exacerbating symptoms of diabetes and making it harder to manage the condition overall. It’s also worth noting that cortisol is linked to a decreased metabolism, making it even more likely that stressed individuals would gain weight. 

Finally, stress can lead to unhealthy coping strategies such as using substances like alcohol, drugs, and medications. The effects of these substances can cause dramatic negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health and put them at risk of addiction. 

As we’ve discussed, coping with stress is absolutely crucial for people with diabetes. Before we discuss ways to do so, it’s essential to cover common sources of stress so that you can be attentive to these sources. This allows you to manage stress more effectively. 

Common Sources of Stress 

Diabetes and Stress

Stress can come from many different sources, including internal feelings, external conditions, and diabetes. 

External Conditions

Sometimes stress is caused directly by difficult life events such as the death of a loved one, financial difficulties, relationship problems, and divorce. 

Novel life events such as getting married, having a baby, and starting a new job can also cause stress. 

Internal Conditions 

Certain maladaptive thinking patterns can also cause stress:

  • Pessimism
  • Rigid thinking
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Perfectionism 

Diabetes

Managing diabetes is not an easy task. It entails being careful about nutrition, taking medications, and controlling blood sugar. According to the American Diabetes Association, “It can leave you feeling run down, emotionally drained, and completely overwhelmed.”

Moreover, anxiety over blood sugar fluctuations can also cause stress due to fear and anxiety. 

More specifically, a condition called hypo anxiety – which refers to anxiety over your blood sugar going too low – is quite common among diabetes patients because low blood sugar can lead to severe consequences such as seizures and loss of consciousness. 

Stress Management Techniques

stress management

Let’s go over some ways to relieve stress healthily. 

Find Out What Is Causing Your Stress

While practices such as meditating – which we’ll cover later on – can be highly effective, it’s crucial to address your stress’s specific causes. 

Sometimes, you have control over the cause. If your stress is caused by internal factors such as pessimism, it’s important to acknowledge this and incorporate practices that lead to healthier ways of thinking (such as avoiding negative thoughts). 

At other times, the cause can be traced back to stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one and divorce. For these causes, it is helpful to accept difficult emotions rather than resisting them and to acknowledge that time is needed for you to either feel better (when the external factor cannot be changed) or to change the situation (when the external factor is temporary such as unemployment).

Exercise

According to a review of studies, exercising causes neurochemical changes that decrease stress. It directly reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In addition, it makes the body produce endorphins, hormones that naturally elevate mood and decrease pain. 

Moreover, merely committing to an exercise routine will make you feel more responsible, which increases self-esteem. Exercise can also lead to weight loss and an improved body shape, which increases self-confidence. Positive feelings about oneself can make your mood better, decreasing stress. 

Additionally, exercise is an effective way to manage diabetes. It can help patients with type 2 diabetes go into remission, vastly decreasing the stress of dealing with the condition. 

Lastly, exercising promotes enhanced blood sugar control and improved insulin sensitivity, promoting long-term glycemic control and reducing the stress associated with blood sugar fluctuations. 

Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological therapy that focuses on changing unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving. 

CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for a wide range of psychological conditions. When it comes to stress, CBT can help you learn how to cope better with diabetes-related stress by helping you think about more adaptive ways about your condition and behave in a manner that allows for better coping. 

Moreover, you can also work with your therapist to treat additional sources of stress, including stressful events and thinking patterns such as negativity and unhealthy behaviors. 

For enhanced results, you can combine CBT with therapy involving support groups for individuals coping with illnesses.

Alternatively, you can try other forms of stress management training, such as online courses.

Meditation

Meditation is a practice that involves inducing a deep state of relaxation in oneself by focusing on a specific thing – such as deep breathing – rather than thinking. 

If you’re feeling uneasy at a particular moment, meditating can help you reduce stress because it allows you to relax and stop the stream of negative thoughts from firing. It allows your mind to be clearer, and a clear mind allows you to handle your thoughts in more adaptive ways, in turn improving your emotional state.

In the long term, meditation has powerful effects that can help you deal with stress. 

According to a study, participants were divided into a control group and a treatment group participating in a mindfulness-based stress management program lasting 8 weeks.

Results showed that the intervention group displayed a significant reduction in the size of the amygdala region of the brain, which is responsible for stress.

This effect was, in turn, correlated with reduced stress levels.

It’s worth noting that the same study also found that participants experienced a significant difference in the thickness of brain regions associated with various positive emotions and behaviors, including emotional regulation, learning, perspective-taking, memory, and cognition. 

These positive effects can vastly improve your quality of life and self-concept, aiding in reducing stress.  

If you want to start practicing meditation, you can easily incorporate it into your routine by doing it at home. Another option is to undertake a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that has been proven effective in treating a wide variety of conditions, including disease control and stress reduction.

In one study, nursing students’ stress levels were measured and compared to stress levels after they performed PMR. Results showed that they experienced a statistically significant decrease in perceived stress levels. 

If you want to try PMR, here’s how it works:

  1. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position and breathe deeply
  2. Tightly squeeze your feet for a few breaths, and then release
  3. Repeat the second step for every muscle group, going from the feet up to the face
  4. Repeat for any muscle groups that feel particularly tense

Practice Self-Care

Self-care involves performing activities that enhance your physical and mental health. 

The popularity of this practice has grown significantly in the past few years, and for a good reason. Health improvements associated with self-care activities make you feel generally better, leading to decreased stress.

Moreover, certain self-care activities such as exercising can be considered stress reduction techniques in and of themselves.

Here are some self-care behaviors you can try:

  • Practice gratitude
  • Meditate
  • Reserve time for pleasurable activities
  • Go for a yoga class or any form of physical activity
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Engage in creative activities such as drawing
  • Use scented candles or essential oils
  • Treat yourself with a massage, special meal, or anything that makes you feel good.

Closing Off

Diabetes and Stress

Managing your physical health is a great way to reduce the stress associated with diabetes. To do so, make sure to check out the Klinio app. It is specifically designed to help people with diabetes manage various aspects of their condition.

Written by

Stefan Hartmann

Stefan Hartmann attended the University of Central Florida while working as an Emergency Department Scribe with the goal of practicing medicine one day. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelors's in Sports & Exercise Science in 2015. He continued working full time and immediately began work as a Master Trainer at LA Fitness. There he helped clients of all ages and abilities achieve their fitness goals through one-on-one personal training. He then moved to Massachusetts and completed the Physician Assistant Program at Bay Path University from 2016-2018. He has been working as a PA in Urgent Care and Primary Care. Stefan is a firm believer that chronic disease is 100% reversible through Nutrition, Exercise, and the right supplements and alternative modalities.

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