Managing life stress AND diabetes is not for the faint of heart.
Many of the tips and tools we suggest in psychology can sometimes be hard to translate to diabetes. What we know is that we experience stress in our bodies and not just in our minds. Dealing with the day-to-day stresses of life can feel overwhelming at times but factor in balancing it all with diabetes and its on a whole other level. Often people with diabetes don’t feel like they have the luxury to choose how they would like to respond to a diabetes stressor like a pump site failure or a low blood sugar, just to name a couple of scenarios.
The challenge I see as a mental health provider is how to tune in to ourselves during times of stress and intentionally find ways to relax the mind and body, restoring a sense of safety to ourselves.
During times of distress, stress hormones are released by our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which is like a “gas pedal” to help activate our muscles to fight or run away from danger. When this occurs, our breathing becomes more shallow and we may notice tension in our shoulders, chest, or gastrointestinal tract. To counterbalance the stress response from the SNS, we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) by calming the body. One technique is deep breathing to intentionally relax the body using our breath. We can do this anyplace, anywhere to calm our overactive nervous systems and “tap the brake pedal” before speeding out of control. Another powerful calming strategy is movement. Moving our muscles through yoga or another form of exercise, going for a mindful walk or run, is also key to tuning into how we are feeling and intentionally relaxing our bodies from the stress that builds up in a day.
What can you do?
Start by noticing how you feel stress in your body and begin experimenting with breathing exercises until you notice a calming sensation in your body. Once you feel the benefit, keep practicing breathing or movement as regularly as you can to tend to yourself and regulate the feeling of safety as often as you can.
Kristi is a licensed clinical social worker, diabetes care and education specialist, and certified specialist in obesity and weight management. Kristi has been working in the field of diabetes since 2007 and has had the privilege of working with people across the lifespan who are impacted by diabetes. She has experience working with adults, children, athletes, pregnancy, and weight management.