These days, we all live stressful lives, whether we have diabetes or not. Whether you are a student trying to cram for tomorrow’s exam, a parent struggling with work and car pool arrangements, or a grandparent trying to adjust to the challenges of retirement, life can be stressful.
Throw in diabetes, and the stress level can be overwhelming. We feel stress when something happens that makes our bodies feel they are under attack. Stress can be caused by physical things, such as injury or illness, or it can be caused by emotional problems, such as difficulties with a marriage, relationship, job, health or money.
If you have diabetes, stress can be a part of a vicious cycle. Diabetes itself is stressful. And when you are overstressed, your body produces a cocktail of hormones. These hormones cause glucose and fat to be released into your bloodstream. It is nature’s way of helping you deal with the stress. For most people, that is good. But if you have diabetes, this response can throw your blood glucose levels out of whack. You do not always have enough insulin on hand to let glucose into cells. Your blood glucose level rises higher than it should. This can increase your stress level even further as you try to deal with the situation at hand.
It is important to find productive ways to deal with the stress in your life, especially if you have diabetes. Not only will this help prevent your blood glucose levels from going out of control as a direct reaction to the stress, but it will also help prevent the stress from triggering more serious psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety. When you are depressed or overly anxious about even minor concerns, you may let your diabetes care slide. When you feel miserable and have a sense of hopelessness, the last thing you want to do is check your blood glucose level. But neglecting your day-to-day care routine is the worst thing you can do in both the short and long term
Stress can cause your blood glucose levels to rise unexpectedly. Any time you have unexplained hyperglycemia, ask yourself whether you have been under either physical or emotional stress. Stress can also give you an upset stomach, headaches, diarrhea, rashes, coughing, or feelings of nervousness, tiredness, or fatigue. It can make you feel sad or depressed or overanxious about things that are not normally a concern
What You Should Do
If you frequently feel stressed out, overwhelmed, or unable to cope, there are several measures you can take to better handle the stress in your life. You may not be able to remove all the trigger of stress, but you may be able to handle how you react to them. If stress gets out of hand, you may experience periods of depression and/or anxiety. If this occurs, you may need to seek professional help.
The first thing to do is to identify those times when you feel overwhelmed by stress. Make a list of all the things that contribute to your stress. Try to order them in terms of which things are most stressful. Look over the list. Ask yourself if there are triggers or situations on the list that you can do something about right away. For example, if you are constantly stressed out be a messy house, could you hire someone to help you clean once a month or even once a week? Can you enlist the help of family members? If you are having problems managing your workload at the office, can you talk to your boss about ways to decrease the workload? Can you afford to work part-time instead of full-time? If you are stressed out from driving the kids everywhere after school, can you carpool with your neighbors or get your spouse to pitch in? if traffic in general gets you riled up, can you find a new route to work or travel at a time when there is less congestion?
If your stress is related to more personal matters such as marital problems or a particular family situation, enlist the help of your health care team. Maybe it would help to talk to a psychologist or social worker who can help you manage your emotional burdens and find ways to deal with your particular situation.
If you find that you are frequently caught in stressful situations and there is no way to prevent the situation from occurring, it may help to find better ways to control your reaction to the stress. Teach yourself some of the following ways to relax:
Some stress will never go away. Diabetes is one of them. In those cases, it may help to join a support group or talk to people in similar situations. Knowing how other people deal with the same stresses may help you cope better.
Sources and References
The Diabetes Problem Solver—Quick Answers to Your Questions About Treatment and Self-Care by Nancy Touchette
Stress Management Training in Diabetes Mellitus by Heather Soo and Sarah Lam
Integrative Approaches to Stress Management by L Carlson, K Toivonen and U Subrius