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Managing Stress in Diabetes

According to a study, people with diabetes (Type1 or Type 2) have 20-40% higher stress levels. Experiencing stress or anxiety is inevitable and is experienced by almost all of us in some form or the other. However, the stress in diabetes can have serious complications/implications if not given attention. Living with a lifestyle condition like diabetes involves constant management and hence often becomes frustrating due to its slow progress.

Biologically speaking, stress is simply the response by our body towards the external stimuli. Stress can directly be responsible for glucose control, and the hormones may directly affect the levels of glucose as well as blood sugar. This is due to the reaction of our body due to experiencing stress or feeling threatened.

What happens when a body undergoes stress?

When a body experiences acute or chronic stress, adrenaline increases the heart rate, elevates the blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. The primary stress hormone- cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. The insulin level drops, and it gets tough to raise it due to the dominance of stress hormones. In acute conditions, the glucose levels return to normal after the stressor is over, but for chronic blood glucose levels remain high as the stress is long-term. The body responds to stress whether acute or chronic stress through a process called allostasis.

Stages of stress

Acute stress like flight or fight response is a physiological reaction when our body perceives stress, attack or threat, either mentally and/or physically. Fight or flight response occurs in three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.

  1. The alarm stage refers to the initial symptoms of stress experienced. The heart rate increases, the adrenal gland releases cortisol, and there’s a boost of adrenaline, which increases energy in this stage.
  2. The resistance stage is when the body begins to repair itself. Heart rates and blood pressure begins to normalize and a lower amount of cortisol is released. If the resistance stage continues for a long time without pauses, it leads to the exhaustion stage.
  3. The last stage occurs when the body is exposed to the stressors for a long time. It results in the depletion of the body’s resources, suppressing the immune system, and causes bodily functions to deteriorate.

What happens during the fight and flight response?

During this response, our hormone levels are elevated and cause our nerve cells to fire due to this response. The blood releases adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream that results in increased respiratory rates. The body allows fighting the situation by directing blood to the muscles and limbs. In the case of diabetics, the body may not be able to process the glucose released by firing the nerve cell. If the glucose produced cannot be converted into energy, it builds up in the bloodstream, thus causing the blood glucose levels to rise.

Stress in diabetes can lead to depression

Chronic stress levels steadily lead to the rise of cortisol. Cortisol hinders the production of serotonin. Serotonins along with other hormones like endorphins and oxytocin are the happy hormones that relax and soothe the body muscles and give a feeling of comfort. Reduced serotonin furthers the feeling of sadness and leads to depression. Raised cortisol levels prevent the usage of blood glucose in the cell so that they are available during fight-or-flight situations. This causes the chronic elevation of blood sugar levels under stress conditions.

Experiencing stress symptoms

Stress is usually experienced in subtle forms, which might go unnoticed. Sometimes, it might look like a simple problem, but it can build up and destroy physical and mental well-being. Hence, recognizing stress symptoms plays an essential role in lowering stress levels among diabetics. Here are some subtle signals you might encounter:

If you’re stressed, these are the physical signs you might experience:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sick
  • Hypersomnia/ Insomnia
  • Muscle pain and tension

You might also feel common psychological manifestations of stress like:

  • Unmotivated
  • Irritable
  • Depressed
  • Restless
  • Anxious

It is natural for people to experience common behavioral symptoms like:

  • Overeating / Under-eating
  • Cutting social ties
  • Isolation
  • Excessive anger
  • Excessive substance abuse (alcohol/ tobacco)

Coping with stress

Don’t worry! There is always a solution to keep away your problems. Reducing the stressor is essential to regulate the levels of glucose in the blood. There’s always a way to increase our happy hormones. Here are a few ways to manage stress in diabetes:

  • Therapy

A therapist tailors coping mechanisms according to your situations, creating a safe space. It is always recommended to seek professional help. Seeking professional help can result in faster recovery. The therapists use several methods like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Interpersonal therapies etc. to guide the individuals in solving their issues. It is guided by a set of ethics that hinders the therapists to reveal your information to anyone else. They may also provide medical advice.

  • Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation are probably the best antidotes to stress. They involve controlled breathing, spiritual body relaxing, and cleansing the mind. Both enable the release of endorphins- natural hormones that make you feel better. Performing different asanas or postures also stretches the body and increases the blood flow.

  • Make time for your hobby

Doing something that you really like can make a huge difference. It elevates mood and makes it less likely to slip into depression, sadness, and anxiety. Pursuing hobbies lowers blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference, and body mass index, and perceptions of better physical function. Enjoying your hobbies also comforts psychologically.

  • Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is the key to avoid stress. Lack of sleep can lead to a rise in cortisol levels and physical tension. A minimum of 7 hours of sleep is required by the body to function well.

  • Maintaining a healthy diet

Eating food that is nutritious and balanced with proteins, vitamins, and minerals can help reduce stress. A comforting salad bowl can boost the levels of serotonin and help in the reduction of cortisol and adrenaline. Following a balanced diet with fewer carbs and harmful fat content leads to emotional and physical relief.

Key Takeaway

Stress can hamper health in diabetic patients. Stress increases blood sugar levels and harms the immunity. Hence, managing stress is extremely important to keep oneself healthy. Practising yoga, walking, taking time out for hobbies are some ways to cope with stress. Regulating stress hormones- cortisol, also increases serotonin and avoids the feelings of depression.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog, or any linked materials, are not intended & should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult a certified healthcare professional in case of a medical concern. 

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