By Vanessa Caceres Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
Stress management can be an important part of managing type 2 diabetes. Discover how to recognize diabetes-related stress and then how to unwind from it.
Stress management is important for everyone’s overall health, but it’s particularly vital in type 2 diabetes. That’s because the way your body responds to stress could lead to diabetes complications, says Robert A. Gabbay, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist and chief medical officer at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
According to Dr. Gabbay, stress leads to an increase in the hormones cortisol and epinephrine, and a rise in those hormones also causes your body to produce more glucose and fat, which can negatively affect your blood sugar control. In someone who doesn’t have diabetes, the body produces enough insulin to combat the increase in glucose. But that’s not true for people with diabetes, he says. Another problem: Some people may turn to food to deal with stress and, depending on what you’re eating, that also can spike your blood sugar, he adds.
As poor blood sugar control can result in eye damage, nerve damage, foot damage, and even heart disease, it’s vital that people with type 2 diabetes recognize when they’re feeling stress and have a plan to control it. Here are some tips:
Stress is all too common — as many as one-third of all American adults experience excessive stress regularly, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Some of the common symptoms of stress cited by the APA include:
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Isolating yourself from others
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Although some stress is considered “good stress” — such as the kind of stress that helps you meet deadlines at work — stress in general can be bad for your health and lead to health problems ranging from obesity and depression to heart disease and stroke, according to the APA. What’s more, stress can affect your motivation to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and monitor blood sugar.
To make matters worse, the symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations, dizziness, and excessive sweat can mimic the symptoms of low blood sugar, a problem common to people with type 2 diabetes, says Padam Bhatia, MD, a psychiatrist and co-founder of the Center for Mind and Wellness in Miami. If you’re not sure of how stressed you are, Dr. Bhatia advises, turn to family and friends. “Ask them, ‘Have I been different lately?’” They will give you the scoop on whether you need to check in on your stress and find ways to unwind.
Taking Steps to Manage Stress
Try these strategies to lower your stress level:
1. Educate yourself. A common source of stress when you have type 2 diabetes is not knowing enough about your condition. “Things that are unknown are scary,” Bhatia says. The more you can learn about diabetes, the better you’ll feel about your ability to manage it.
2. Stay organized. It may take some time initially to get a handle on diabetes management, but once you do, you’ll save time and lower stress, Bhatia says. “For example, people may feel a stigma about using pill boxes to manage their medications, but they are helpful,” he says. Using one will help make the habit of taking your meds automatic. Better organization in other areas of your life can help you stress less, too.
3. Try meditation. Bhatia recommends this relaxation technique to many of his patients and lets them know they only need 5 to 10 minutes a day to practice it. “There’s no risk, and it’s pretty powerful,” he says. In fact, meditation is such a useful tool for stress reduction, it may even help lower the risk of heart disease, according to research published in June 2014 in the journal Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation.
4. Use progressive muscle relaxation. This technique involves tensing and relaxing each part of your body, one area at a time. Put on some soothing music and find a script online to guide you through the body parts. “By the end, you’ll feel the anti-anxiety effect,” Bhatia says.
5. Do what works for you. Ask yourself, “What do I like to do to relieve stress?” The answer can be different for everyone, but this simple question will remind you to make time for what helps you unwind, be it exercise, a hobby, or relaxation techniques.
6. Turn to your doctor if you need additional help. If your stress is so bad that you can’t function in your normal relationships or you suspect you’re depressed, talk to your doctor. Endocrinologists often collaborate with mental health professionals who can help you cope with excessive stress.