How Stress Is Connected to Diabetes

Stress affects every part of your body. It changes your muscle tension, your hormones, and your heart. Some of these changes only last for a little while, but if you are experiencing stress daily, these changes can add up in your body.

In most cases, if you're diagnosed with diabetes, it's a lifelong illness that you have to manage. It takes consistent effort to track your blood sugar levels and this can add extra stress to your day. Learning how stress could be affecting your diabetes and techniques to reduce stress can help you to better manage your blood sugar levels. 

Senior woman checking blood sugar levels
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Stress Caused by Diabetes

Living with a chronic illness can cause stress. With a chronic disease such as diabetes, it takes daily effort to control your blood sugar levels. This includes:

  • Taking prescribed medication
  • Checking your blood sugar level
  • Implementing diet changes
  • Losing weight
  • Increasing physical activity

It's common with chronic illnesses like this to experience burnout from the everyday task of managing it, but if you stay on top of your diabetes management, you can also control your stress levels.

How Stress Affects Blood Sugar

Stress affects your blood sugar in a couple of ways, and most of it is related to your hormones. When you are stressed, it triggers the fight-or-flight response in your body, which is how the body prepares to protect itself from perceived danger.

This can happen with daily stressors, like work or family, or from an acute illness, like the flu.

Two hormones that get released during the fight or flight response are:

  • Adrenaline
  • Cortisol

Adrenaline triggers the release of another hormone called glucagon, which directly affects your blood sugar level.

Glucagon has the opposite effect of insulin.

  • Insulin helps cells to take in the sugar in your blood and store it in the cells for later use.
  • Glucagon on the other hand stimulates your body to remove glucose from storage and bring it out into the blood to be moved around the body and be used for energy.

Your body has this response to both acute and chronic perceived stress. Over time this can impact your blood sugar levels, especially for people who are at risk for or have diabetes because they have a harder time using insulin to bring the glucose back into cells.

Research has also connected high cortisol levels with increased blood sugar levels and decreased secretion of insulin. This makes it more difficult to bring sugar into the cells leading to higher blood sugar levels.

Stress also takes a toll both mentally and physically, and this can make it more difficult to consistently take care of yourself.

If you are wondering if stress is affecting your blood sugar levels, you can try comparing your stress levels to your blood sugar levels. One study recommended rating your perceived stress, try a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most stressed), and recording your blood sugar level. After a few weeks of this, you may be able to notice a trend in your stress and blood sugar.

Can Stress Cause Diabetes?

Stress doesn’t directly cause diabetes, but it has been identified as a risk factor. High-stress levels can also make it more difficult to keep your blood sugar levels under control. 

How to Cope With Stress

It’s possible to reduce your reaction to stressors in your life by using techniques to help manage your stress levels. Self-care activities can help you to feel better throughout the day and reduce the effects of stress on your health.

Stress Management Techniques

  • Meditation: Meditating has been shown to help reduce negative thoughts, help your mind to relax, and help your body relax. It can be difficult to sit and meditate if you aren’t used to it, so you can even try starting with just a 3-minute meditation to get used to being still.
  • Take a deep breath: In response to the stress response, it’s common for heart rate and breathing to increase. Taking a slow, full breath can help the body to slow down and relax a little.
  • Exercise: Physical activities help to reduce stress by releasing some of the energy produced in the stress response. It's also beneficial for people with diabetes because it increases the body’s ability to use insulin, making it easier to bring glucose into cells from the blood.
  • Journal: Writing down your thoughts can help to get them out of your head and a regular journaling practice can help to reduce stress.
  • Talk with a loved one: Talking with someone about your stressors and your experience can help to relieve some of the anxiety about the stress and help you to feel supported. 

Diabetes Support

It can feel lonely to manage a chronic condition, but you don’t have to go through it alone. There are many options for online and in-person support.

Check local hospitals, community centers, or try looking through the American Diabetes Association for community support groups. You could also ask your doctor if they know of any outpatient group programs that they could refer you to.

Stress and Depression

Depression can affect anyone. Sometimes stress, sadness, and anxiety won’t go away, and it can leave you feeling hopeless. If you are feeling the symptoms of depression, it’s important to discuss them with a health care provider and get support to help manage it.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Changes in sleep
  • Loss of energy and trouble concentrating
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities you used to enjoy
  • Difficulty completing work and decline in performance

Seek Help

If you or a loved one are having trouble with depression, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-622-4357. This free service is available 24/7 and will help connect you to resources in your area.

A Word From Verywell

Diabetes can bring a lot of different challenges into your life. Stress could be affecting your blood sugar levels and making it more difficult to manage your diabetes. Stress management techniques can help make it easier to manage your diabetes, and it is possible to live a happy, healthy lifestyle with diabetes.

Finding support that works for you and making lifestyle changes can help to reduce your stress and effectively manage your blood sugar levels. 

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Article Sources
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