Everyday stress coupled with the stress of type 2 diabetes can make it harder to manage blood sugar and even lead you to neglect self-care. Find out how to ease stress and regain control of your diabetes.
Whether it’s looming deadlines at work, money concerns, or another source of worry, unmanaged stress can sap your energy, your emotions, and your health. It’s especially important to manage your stress when you have type 2 diabetes, because stress can send blood sugar soaring and interfere with how you manage your condition, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Stress may cause a rise in hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine, says Susan Weiner, RDN, a certified diabetes educator in New York, the 2015 Educator of the Year of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and author of The Complete Diabetes Organizer: Your Guide to a Less Stressful and More Manageable Diabetes Life. People with diabetes who either don’t produce insulin or have significant insulin resistance can’t effectively combat the effects of these hormones. As a result, their blood sugar levels rise, she says. Over time, high blood sugar levels can lead to a number of complications, including heart disease, eye and kidney disease, and stroke.
In addition, stress can raise your blood pressure, trigger headaches, and make it harder to breathe, according to the American Psychological Association. Although you can’t avoid stress completely, there are steps you can take to manage it and remain in control of your diabetes.
When Managing Type 2 Diabetes Stresses You Out
Just having diabetes is stressful in itself because it affects your life 24/7. “You can go on vacation, but your diabetes goes with you,” Weiner says. That means your blood sugar testing must be done no matter where you are. Maintaining a healthy diet can also be challenging and stressful on a daily basis. Keeping all of your medical appointments and managing your medical paperwork can be a significant source of stress too, she says.
The stress of sticking to a diabetes management plan combined with any other stress you’re dealing with can wear you out. Sometimes it’s easy to let part or even all of your diabetes management go by the wayside. So-called diabetes burnout is a common problem — but one you can get help for.
If you’re feeling burned out, Weiner suggests checking in with your doctor or diabetes educator. Your doctor may be able to suggest changes to make your medication, nutrition, and exercise plans easier for you. Get help to handle your emotions if you feel they’re out of control. “There’s no reason to go through this alone — talk to a qualified therapist or reach out to a friend, family member, or an understanding member of the diabetes community for support,” she says.
Healthy Ways to Handle Stress
Try these tips to get your stress level and your diabetes back under control:
1. Use exercise to your advantage. Exercise is a great way to deal with stress because it increases your body’s production of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain and helps with mild depression and anxiety. It can also have a positive effect on blood sugar control over time. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, Weiner says. “Discuss your blood sugar target range to reduce the stress of a possible low blood sugar episode following a workout.”
2. Practice Relaxation. Try deep-breathing exercises for several minutes twice a day. The deep breathing of yoga helped people with type 2 diabetes by improving their quality of life and heart function, according to a study in the July 2014 Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Another relaxation option is progressive relaxation therapy, which shows you how to tense and then relax your muscles to relieve stress.
3. Aim for a diabetes-friendly lifestyle. “A good nutrition program can help you feel healthy and well nourished, which can make you feel better and significantly reduce your stress,” Weiner says. Getting enough good-quality sleep can also reduce stress.
4. Streamline diabetes self-care. “I believe that the stress associated with diabetes can be reduced by improving organizational skills,” Weiner says. “Think about what you must do in the morning and try to accomplish some of those tasks the night before.” Prepare your lunch and snacks before you go to sleep at night. Set out your clothing, so you don’t have to decide what to wear when the sun comes up. These time-saving tips will allow you to have more time in the morning to check your blood sugar, eat breakfast, exercise, and meditate. Becoming more organized can help you get through the “must do’s” and give you more time for your “want to’s,” she says.