The Role Of Stress In Diabetes
Stress happens to everyone. We all experience it. At one time or another, physical or mental circumstances which we perceive as a threat affect us. This triggers our fight or flight response, and a cascade of physical responses follow. Muscles tighten and engage to prepare for action. Hormones are released, among them adrenaline to lend us speed and strength, and cortisol which boosts blood pressure and blood sugar, for increased circulation and energy. Cortisol is what poses a serious thread for people with diabetes.
Stress and Blood Sugar
Ideally, diabetics keep their blood sugar levels fairly balanced. For a diabetic living in a state of chronic stress, this becomes improbable if not impossible. The stress response releases hormones which cue the body to release increased levels of glucose; the physical signals caused by the stress response indicate a need for quick energy–more sugar in the blood stream.
The stress response also has a behavioral effect on diabetes. People living with diabetes and chronic stress often experience greater difficulty making appropriate lifestyle choices. They may indulge in “comfort” foods (fat and sugar heavy foods), which further increases sugar in the blood stream. They will likely also take less time for physical activity or forget to monitor their blood sugar levels.
These factors make it especially important for diabetics to manage and mitigate their stress levels. A variety of natural therapies to assist with stress management and relief are available.
Many of them are low cost or no cost. The most significant investment required to benefit from them is time. The time is well worth the return on investment, good health and improved mental well-being.
Ways to Reduce Stress
A person may choose several approaches to stress management. They may choose to focus on mental exercises to calm and focus the mind. Others select physical activity as their preferred relaxation method. Many people choose to use a combination of mental and physical relaxation techniques to reduce their stress levels.
Assess Your Stress
A good way to begin the process is to evaluate your daily activities and discern where and when you experience stress.
When a fairly decent list is ready, check for the items over which you can exert some control. If you are constantly running late, setting your clock ahead by 15 or 20 minutes might allow you to stay on track and arrive on time or early.
Physical approaches to stress management include more than traditional exercise (calisthenics, weight training, running, etc.):
- Singing Lessons
- Volunteering in a variety of settings
The key is to select and activity which allows you to be relaxed and moving at the same time.
Mental approaches to calming the mind and body include more than meditation:
As the fight or flight response confirms, the physical and mental state of a person more often than not aligns with their breathing patterns.
- In the fight or flight response, breathing becomes accelerated to increase the volume of oxygen available to fight or flee.
- Sleep presents a different breathing pattern, a typically deep and slow one
- A calm person presents yet another breath pattern, steady and even.
A variety of exercises are available to practice breath awareness and breath control. These exercises allow a person to shift the direction of their breath to align with their desired mental state. For the purposes of our discussion, this means shifting anxiety or negative emotion to a sense of calm and well-being.
- The exercises practiced may be simple cyclical breaths of even inhales and exhales.
- A person may choose to count breaths up to a certain number.
- Another option is to set a timer and do nothing but breathe for 5, 10 or 20 minute increments.
Progressive Relaxation Therapy
During progressive relaxation therapy, a person alternates engaging the muscles of a specific body part and relaxing them. They do this for each part of the body in increments as large or small as they like.
They could begin with wiggling and relaxing the toes or flexing and relaxing the whole foot and so on until every part of the body is addressed, including the face. Audio recordings are available to guide you through this process.
Change the Scenario: Mindset
Another way to say this would be change your mindset. Whenever a negative thought or fear comes to mind, reimagine it as a positive.
If you are feeling anxious, visualize yourself in a place or setting you find calming and soothing. You may also paint a picture of a happy memory and spend time recalling it to re-experience the sense of happiness or well being it engenders.
Other forms of visualization are more abstract, such as imagining a warm soothing light enveloping the body and soothing away aches and pains while breathing deeply.
Other activities focus primarily on using the mind to body connection to optimize your physical and mental well-being:
Activities which encourage a calm mind and sound body include Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates. These activities directly tie the movement of the body to the breath creating a sense of calm, easing anxiety and building physical fitness.
Implementing stress management activities in their daily lives is essential to the well being of diabetics. The importance of these types of lifestyle choices are magnified for them, because stress increases two of their greatest health challenges, blood pressure and glucose levels in the blood stream.
The range of stress management solutions available makes this a very approachable and necessary lifestyle choice to apply.
You can simply try each of these therapies with the guidance of your doctor or a wellness specialist to find the right tools for you.