If you have diabetes, you probably know that diet and exercise can affect blood sugar levels. Did you know that stress also could affect blood sugar levels? How does it do this, and what can you do to decrease your stress level?
First, you need to look at what stress is. According to Diabetes Self Management magazine, stress is “anything that causes our bodies to feel threatened.” There are both physical and emotional reasons for stress. Physical stress can be caused by an illness, infection, injury or surgery. Emotional stress will vary for each person, but may include working in a high-stress job or dealing with the death of a loved one.
When the body is under stress, it releases hormones, which cause stored energy - fat and glucose (sugar) - to be released into the blood stream. This mechanism, called the fight or flight response, is built into all of us so that in times of stress or even danger, we have the energy to fight or flee from a situation. This process works great for short-term stressors. If a car pulls out in front of you on the interstate, you want a sudden release of energy to help you react quickly to avoid the car. But what if your stress is more long term, like a lengthy illness or a high-stress job?
With long-term stress, the fight or flight response is triggered to stay on causing a continued release of stress hormones resulting in continued elevated blood sugars. So, what can you do to help prevent this from happening to you?
To be most effective, you need to decrease stress in both the physical and emotional areas of your life. First, take a look at your physical stress. Are you eating three well-balanced meals per day? Are you exercising most days of the week? Are you getting the recommended amount of sleep each night for your age? If not, you need to make the appropriate change(s) to ensure that you are doing what you can to decrease your physical stress.
Next, examine the emotional stress in your life. Begin by identifying the stressor. If you don’t know what is causing the stress, you won’t be able to deal with it effectively. Determining where you are most stressed, such as work, home or school - will help in identifying the stressor.
Then, decide what you need to do to remove or decrease that stressor in your life. It may be something that you need to work on individually, like removing a couple of activities from your busy schedule, or something you need to work on with someone else, like asking another family member to assist in caring for a loved one. However, if the stress is more than you can handle or you are unable to identify the stressor, speak with a trained professional who can help.
If decreasing the stress in your life can help you to achieve better blood sugar control, what are you waiting for? Follow the tips above, and get started today. If you need further assistance, contact the Diabetes Management Center at Blount Memorial Hospital by calling 865-977-5767.
Barbie Haas is a registered nurse and diabetes nurse educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.