Just Stay Calm! If the Hulk can do it, you can too!
Any Marvel fans out there? I’ve really gotten into the Marvel movies, and now Wandavision in the last few years and weeks, and love so many things about them. This is a stark (no pun intended) change from when my husband and I went to the first Captain America movie while we were dating, and I fell asleep. I just didn’t see the appeal back then.
If you don’t know the story of the Hulk, I’ll give you a quick background. Bruce Banner is a normal person who has an alter-ego, the Hulk. When he gets angry, his rage turns him into a giant green monster who is strong beyond belief, but also very dangerous. In the Thor: Ragnarok movie, Banner has been trapped as the Hulk for over 2 years, and when Thor finally helps Banner gain control again, he has an epic meltdown as he comes to realize how much time has gone by, and that they’re stranded on an alien planet. Thor tells him that he just needs him to stay calm, but he’s obviously incredibly stressed out. In frustration, he says, “We are stranded on a planet designed to stress me out.”
While I frequently can relate to feeling like I’m stranded on a planet designed to stress me out, especially spending a large majority of my day with 3 little humans under the age of 7, I can’t say I’ve truly been in Banner’s shoes. What he was dealing with was the fight or flight response. When this happens, our bodies release several hormones, which help give us the energy we need to deal with the stress. These hormones cause the liver to release glycogen, which raises blood sugar, and for someone without diabetes, their bodies release insulin to manage the BG spike. But for someone with diabetes, the spike can be extreme and frustrating. Extra insulin is typically needed to bring those numbers down, and for people with Type 1 diabetes, stress can even cause lows and be unpredictable. It also causes insulin resistance, which, as discussed in other articles this month, can be damaging and have long-term effects aside from causing higher blood sugars and requiring more insulin.
While the fight or flight response can be useful to turn Banner into the Hulk and fight a threat, our brains aren’t good at differentiating between a real threat, and everyday stressors, like having a lot on our plates, traffic, or work. Not all stress is bad, but the body reacts the same way. And with diabetes, it’s probably going to mean harder to manage blood sugars.
So, what can we do about it? We all have ways of dealing with stress, whether it be eating junk food, binge-watching Avengers movies (don’t look at me), or soaking in a hot tub, it’s important to look for healthy ways to manage and try to avoid the unhealthy ones, which can be a quick fix, but generally don’t work long-term.
Here are my suggestions of how to deal with stress in a healthy way
Avoid stressors as much as possible and try not to worry about things you can’t change. All too often I find myself worrying about what could be. It is much more useful to plan for the future, but not worry about stressors until they are present and real. For example, all too often I stress out worrying I’m going to be late picking up one of my kids from school, and I worry that he will have to wait alone with the teaching before I can get there. But being stressed out while I’m driving to the school doesn’t help me get there faster and can even be dangerous if I’m going too fast or not paying attention. I have yet to be so late that my kid’s the only one out there, so all of that stress really isn’t worth it.
Learn some management techniques. Not all stress is avoidable, nor should it be, but learning how to manage it is key! Stress doesn’t actually come from our circumstances, but rather our thoughts about the circumstances. Take for example, Thor. He was also stranded on an alien planet in the movie and had gone through much more in the last few days than Banner had. On top of that his whole planet was being attacked by an evil villain. He, if anyone, was more entitled to a meltdown than Banner was. But his thoughts about the situation were different than Banner’s. Now that’s not to say that we’re not entitled to ever feeling stressed out about something, but I find it helpful to recognize how my thoughts are affecting me. I frequently tell myself something to the effect of, “There are no villains to fight, it’s just stress over (fill in the blank) and will pass.”
Exercise and find time for some self-care. Exercise is great at lowering insulin resistance and increasing endorphins, as well as helping lower our stress levels. Finding a good workout plan, and if possible, a workout buddy can help too!
Find someone to talk to about your stressors, whether it be a friend, family member, or professional help if needed. Journaling can also be a good way to sort through thoughts and relieve stress.
Manage blood sugars. While high blood sugars can be a result of a myriad of things, knowing how to keep them in check is key! Reach out to us here if you feel you need help getting back on your feet, getting through a hard time, or just if you need help in general!
Annette Valle is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator who also serves as an English/Spanish medical language interpreter. She has lived with T1D since age 13. Annette has personal experience and is certified to train on all models of insulin pumps, CGMs and hybrid closed loop systems.