Everyone has experienced moments where life can be busy and hectic. Between the demands of work and home, we all can feel the effects of stress on our bodies and our well-being.
When our bodies and minds perceive stress, we release a series of stress hormones (namely, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol) to create the fight-flight-or-freeze response. Although this is healthy response in true life-threatening situations, when these stress hormones are chronically elevated, they can wreak havoc on our bodies, and can make the management of diabetes more challenging. Stress hormones cause blood sugars to rise, which is particularly impactful for those with diabetes.
When we’re stressed, our blood sugar levels rise to create a response to a perceived threat (i.e., a situation where you might need extra energy). For those without diabetes, this spike in blood sugar during stressful times is kept under control through normal body mechanisms. However, many people with diabetes do not have the same protective mechanisms in place, so blood sugar can remain elevated in an unhealthy manner during times of stress.
Although life stresses can pull us in different directions and leave us feeling wrung out, there are some simple and effective techniques that anyone can do to reduce their stress levels.
Pay Attention to your Breath
When our bodies are under stress, we tend to breathe in short, shallow gulps; we are usually not even aware that we are doing this. Shallow (chest) breathing keeps the nervous system aroused and keeps one in a fight-flight-or-freeze mode. Deep (belly) breathing is one of the most effective ways to relax the body. When we breathe deeply, our brain sends a message to the body to relax. The next time you are feeling stressed, consciously shift your attention to your breath and take long, slow breaths into the belly – this balances the nervous system and is one of the fastest ways to reduce stress in the body.
Eat a Healthy Diet with Regular Meals
Maintaining ongoing nourishment is one of the best defenses against stress. It is important to eat regularly and not skip meals. For those with diabetes, irregular eating can create wider fluctuations in blood sugar levels and creates a physical stress to the body. Spreading out foods, particularly those with carbohydrates, throughout each day can help maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Consider an Insulin Pump
For those with insulin-dependent diabetes, there can be the added stressor of regularly monitoring and maintaining blood sugar levels throughout the day, while also trying to regulate insulin needs accurately. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol can negatively impact the daily regulation of balancing blood sugars, carbohydrate intake, and insulin needs. Using a device such as an insulin pump means more time enjoying life, and less time worrying about managing your diabetes. The pump allows for insulin to be released in ways specific to your unique biological needs and your dietary intake. An insulin pump can be a very helpful tool to ease the management of diabetes. Pumps like the t:slim® Insulin Pump are very easy to use, with a simple to use touch screen, just like a smart phone.
Get Regular Exercise
Physical activity helps increases production of endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in the body. Exercise has been proven to improve your mood, and even alleviate depression and anxiety. For those with diabetes, regular exercise helps to keep blood sugars low. For those who are insulin-dependent, an insulin pump can help to regulate the balance of insulin that is needed during and after exercise.
Studies have shown that laughter stimulates your body in positive ways, by increasing endorphins and lowering stress hormones in the body. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a good belly laugh?
While no one is immune to stress, what we can control is our response to the stressors in our lives. For those with diabetes, regulating the stress response is particularly important, since stress can affect blood sugar and insulin levels in negative ways. However, routinely applying stress-reducing techniques and tools can optimize your health, and keep your body happy and relaxed.
Oftentimes, stress comes from trying to control circumstances beyond our control. Since diabetes is largely a “self-managed” condition, your health is truly in your hands! Making a commitment to reduce and manage stress is a healthy commitment to yourself and to your body.