Could stress be making a difference in my blood sugar control?
Ask Dana: Simple Solutions to your Diabetes Dilemmas
I consider myself someone who takes really good care of herself and her diabetes. I always take my medication and always try to do what my doctor says to do. Recently though, I have seen a big rise in my blood sugars. Sometimes for no reason! I am eating and exercising the same – but, I will say I am worrying more and perhaps a bit more stressed than I have been in the past. Could that be making a difference in my blood sugar control? – Heather Greenberg, Austin, Texas
The short answer is YES! Stress and worry can absolutely affect your blood sugars, and not usually for the better.
The long answer is a bit more complicated but worth an explanation.
Our body reacts to stress in a similar way that it reacts to emergency situations. Stress brings on the “fight or flight” mechanism that we often hear about in an emergency situation when someone has the brute strength to lift a car off of a small child, as an extreme example. This “fight or flight” mechanism, whether it is from mental or physical stress, creates many chain reactions in your body that affect blood sugars. In shorter bursts of stress (for example, running late for an important meeting), glucose is actually released into your bloodstream to give you energy for this stressful situation. You might notice this with positive or negative stressors. For example, an exciting event or intense sports events might cause your blood sugars to surge. For long term, chronic stress, however, there are lingering hormones that are released in your body. These hormones can actually cause you to be more resistant to insulin or other glucose-lowering medications that you take. Specifically, a hormone called cortisol can greatly impact your blood sugar management and cause high blood sugars. Increased cortisol levels can also impact your immunity and inflammation; this can also lead to more insulin resistance and elevated blood sugars. Long term stress from chronic pain, work, finances and even diabetes management can all increase cortisol levels.
So how do you limit the impact of stress on your blood sugars may be your next question.
This, of course, is also a complicated answer. Stress is unfortunately a part of our life. However, how we manage and cope with stress is something we can strive to improve. Finding ways to relax in a healthy way is an important coping skill. Exercise, mindfulness, or breathing exercises have all been shown to help reduce stress. Connecting with others and sharing your worries can also help to reduce the weight of your burden. Be aware that there are many resources to help manage stress. Employer groups, insurance carriers, universities and community centers often have health coaches that are trained to help people reduce worry and cope with stress in a healthy manner.
At IDS, one of our main goals is to help people reduce the burden of diabetes and the associated stress of managing a chronic disease. If diabetes management is a source of your stress, give us a call! If anything, we can help reduce the stress of managing your diabetes.
We also have an EXCELLENT therapist (who is also a Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist) who can work with you on the underlying issues that are causing your stress.
Dana is a Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist and Registered Dietitian. She holds certifications in insulin pump therapy and obesity interventions for adults. Dana received a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago after receiving a Bachelor’s in Science with Honors at the University of Texas at Austin. After college, Dana served as an AmeriCorp volunteer on a variety of health education initiatives and played a key role in establishing the first school-based health clinic in the city of Chicago.