How Stress Affects Blood Sugar
Last updated on August 12th, 2016
Research studies have connected many different physical conditions to having too much stress. Things like chronic fatigue syndrome and obesity have been linked to increased stress levels. It turns out that stress has an impact on blood sugar levels, which has great implications for those suffering from diabetes.
People under increased levels of stress are suffering from a heightened “fight or flight” response. This causes the adrenal glands to put out norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol when exposed to the stressor. The stomach knots up, the respiratory rate is faster, and the heart rate is faster. The cortisol released by the adrenal cortex (the outer layer of the adrenal gland) causes elevated blood sugar levels in an attempt to provide cellular fuel if the body actually needs to go into fighting or fleeing.
If you suffer from type 2 diabetes, it means that your body’s cells are insulin resistant. The rise in glucose that comes from stress and cortisol release isn’t managed well and the blood sugar has no place to go. It means that the blood sugar levels will be too high.
Stress in your Life
Most people have a lot of stress in their lives. Stress comes from having long hours on the job, traffic jams getting to and from work, relationships that aren’t perfect, and financial difficulties. This causes the stress hormones to rise for long periods of time, even when we are not actively fighting or fleeing from predators. Rather than acting on the stressor, we sit there with elevated cortisol levels that secondarily increase the blood sugar levels on a chronic basis.
What you can do
There are several things you can do that can decrease cortisol levels, decrease the perception of stress, and lower blood sugar levels. All it takes is learning a few stress management techniques such as relaxation exercises. These can help both diabetics and non-diabetics have a decrease in blood sugar.
A recent study out of Duke University looked at a hundred individuals with elevated blood sugar levels. The participants partook in 5 education classes on diabetes and some also learned stress management techniques. After one year, more than 50 percent of those who learned about stress relief improved their levels of blood sugar to a degree that they were able to decrease their chances of having vision problems, kidney disease, neuropathy, and heart disease so typical of uncontrolled diabetes.
The study participants were able to decrease their stress levels by partaking in relaxation exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, positive mental imagery exercises, deep breathing exercises, and thought-stopping techniques. They sometimes used CDs or DVDs to guide them through stress-reduction therapies.
Fortunately for diabetics, there are numerous ways to learn how to better handle the stress in your life. You simply need to commit yourself to learning stress-reduction techniques and practice it daily. You can take a class in stress reduction, which can be sponsored by health clubs, hospitals, and the YMCA.
Make sure that your doctor knows about your activities in stress reduction because, if it actually lowers your blood sugar levels, the amount of medication you take for diabetes may need to be decreased so that you don’t wind up with hypoglycemic episodes.
Steps toward Stress Reduction
One of the things you need to do in order to lessen the effect of stress on your blood glucose levels and improve your overall health is to take time in your daily life to rest whenever you can. The rest periods can be very short but they should be often because only through rest can you lessen your body’s cortisol level and improve your quality of life.
Rest is crucial for long-term spiritual and psychological well-being. If you don’t take time out to reduce your stress levels, you can become ill. Scientists studying stress in the Netherlands reported that too much fatigue, also known as “vital exhaustion” causes demoralization, irritability, and fatigue. It may also increase your chances of getting a heart attack by 100 percent.
These are ways you can take time out of your life for rest and stress reduction:
- Take deep breaths. Try taking at least three slow, deep breaths before starting the car or answering the phone. Stressful activities like starting a new project at work or dealing with the kids can be made less stressful by taking some deep breaths beforehand.
- Try yoga. Yoga involves partaking in poses that increase flexibility, decrease stress, and improve balance. By decreasing your stress level, you can lower your blood sugar level. Other exercises can also reduce stress and can increase your sense of well-being.
- Take a day off. Sundays used to be a time when families rested, played together, and ate meals together. You should use this day for rest and avoid catching up on work, mowing the lawn, or going shopping for groceries on that day.
- Make meals leisurely. Set aside a few hours a week to enjoy a sumptuous meal with a friend, relative, or other loved one. By spending time relaxing and eating, you can decrease your stress levels.
- Partake in relaxation exercises. Exercises that involve progressive relaxation can be done just about anywhere and can be taught in a class or learned by buying a CD or DVD that teaches progressive relaxation exercises. The exercises involve alternatively tensing and relaxing your muscles so you end up with a completely relaxed body.
- Go to the spa. There are spas everywhere that you can go to for a soothing massage, a pedicure, or a facial. Spas allow you to pamper yourself, which can go a long way toward reducing your stress levels.
- Delegate work. Get rid of unwanted stress in your life by asking other people to do some of the chores on your plate, such as your laundry (that can be taken to a dry cleaners) or event planning (that can be done by an event planner or a caterer).
- Ignore stressful things. If you are dealing with someone who is particularly annoying, such as a nosy neighbor or a co-worker who always bothers you, take the time to simply ignore the person and instead spend time with people you actually like and that don’t annoy you.
- Pick your battles. Decide if it is worth it to argue with your child over their messy bedroom or get angry at your spouse because they forgot to take out the garbage. Pick those battles that will actually make a difference in your life and let the minor things slip by you.
- Try a massage. Find a good massage therapist who can work on your tense muscles and decrease your level of stress. Massages have been found to improve your immune system by aiding in the body’s ability to make white blood cells. They are also known to reduce cortisol levels, decrease blood sugar, and enhance feelings of well-being.
- Take a class in exercising.Even if you don’t like group exercise classes, you can learn from a trainer how to participate in other exercise activities, such as rock climbing, dance, spinning, ballet, fencing, or jumping on a trampoline. You will get a heart-healthy workout by doing something that is fun and playful. Studies have indicated that thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily on most days of the week can be as effective as taking an antidepressant for depression. Exercise also decreases the body’s stress level.
- Try aromatherapy. You don’t have to use aromatherapy oils. The fresh scent of green plants, fresh flowers, candles, potpourri, and aromatherapy sprays can decrease your stress levels, which will bring down your cortisol level and your blood sugar levels if you are a diabetic.
- Is stress messing with your blood sugar? http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/how-stress-impacts-high-blood-sugar-levels. Accessed 5/11/16.
- Stress and Diabetes. http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/stress-diabetes. Accessed 5/11/16.