Stress and Glucose: Know Their Diabetic Dance

There is a constant dance going on in the human body between the effects of insulin and stress-related hormones – a dance that is out-of-step in those who have diabetes.

When the dance is going as it should, insulin allows glucose into our cells, providing the fuel needed for cellular work. As glucose enters the cells, our blood’s level of glucose drops. This drop in blood sugar triggers the action of regulatory and stress hormones that cause the production of more glucose and its release into the blood stream.

Stress Complicates the Dance

Stressful situations affect the insulin and hormonal hip-hop or foxtrot (your choice) resulting in elevated levels of blood glucose. This is normal and necessary. During times of stress, our body needs the extra sugar to fight or flee from whatever challenge we are facing – real or imagined, physical or mental.

This fight-or-flight stress response is a natural process but of concern for diabetics whose blood sugar regulatory mechanisms are not working properly to begin with. When an individual's insulin mechanism is not effective in letting the rising glucose into cells, the blood stream becomes over-loaded with sugar.

Beside having this direct effect on our hormones, stress can indirectly affect the glucose levels of those with diabetes by causing them to fudge on good self-care. Examples of this are:

  1. Consuming alcohol
  2. Eating too much or the wrong foods
  3. Exercising less or not at all
  4. Forgetting to monitor glucose levels
  5. Not getting adequate sleep

Relaxing and Coping

People with type 2 diabetes can successfully control stress and the consequent blood sugar increase with various relaxation techniques and behaviors:

    - Replace negative thoughts with more positive ones
    - Exercise (aerobic, yoga, walking, gardening, dancing, etc.)
    - Breathing exercises
    - Progressive muscle relaxation

(Because those with type 1 diabetes do not manufacture insulin in their bodies, stress reduction does not have the same glucose regulating effect for them, but relaxation has countless other health benefits.)

It has also been discovered that people who have a problem-solving attitude toward life’s challenges tend to have less blood glucose increase owed to stress. When faced with a difficulty, problem-solvers immediately consider what they can do about the situation instead of worrying about what might happen.

Meeting the Stress of Diabetes

It is especially important to hold a problem-solving attitude about having diabetes because living with this illness is quite stressful.

  1. If you haven’t already, join a diabetes support group. They help people feel less alone with the illness and are a valuable source of diabetes resources and helpful information.
  2. Be diligent about maintaining good self-care.
  3. Consider seeing a psychotherapist for support and to strengthen coping, communication and problem-solving skills, making life’s stresses easier to manage.

Sources: American Diabetes Association and HealthCentral

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