You may be counting carbs, eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables, getting quality protein at meals and snacks and exercising regularly…but your blood sugar levels are still above normal. You might be surprised to learn that, even when you’re doing all the right things for your physical health, your mental health can have an impact on your diabetes.
Getting a diagnosis of a long-term illness of any kind is stressful. Diabetes in particular is one that requires daily vigilance, and all that daily management can gradually take a mental toll. There’s even a term for it: diabetes distress. According to the CDC, around one-third to half of all people with diabetes experience feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated or tired of the constant monitoring.
How Mental Health Affects Diabetes Management
There are many different ways in which stress can wreak havoc on a diabetes management plan:
- Raging hormones. Diabetes develops when insulin, a hormone produced by the body, isn’t able to effectively reduce blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) to normal levels. And when you’re stressed, insulin can become further impaired. That’s because your body produces glucagon during times of stress, a hormone that works against insulin, resulting in the release of glucose into the blood stream, subsequently raising blood sugar levels.
- Changing appetite. Stress often affects people’s appetite. For some, feeling stressed leads them to overeat, whereas in others it can cause them to skip meals. In either case, both can throw off your eating plan and cause blood sugar levels to leap.
- Disrupting sleep. Stress can lead to fitful sleep or insomnia, neither of which provides the adequate rest and relaxation your body needs. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re depressed you might sleep even longer than normal. This isn’t helpful, either. It’s important to get a good night’s sleep so the body can recover from the day before and prepare for the day ahead.
How to Manage Stress
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just eliminate all of life’s stressors? While we can’t wave a magic wand and make all our troubles disappear, we can change how we respond to stress. Think of it this way: if you’re wound tight like a drum, any stressor (like a tap of a drumstick) will have a big effect. If you’re loose like a pillow, you are better equipped to absorb those stressors.
Here are some ways to loosen up:
- Change your perspective. Choosing to focus on the positive versus dwelling on the negative is a decision you can make. You can get in the habit of doing this by keeping a daily gratitude journal – simply jot down at least one positive thing that happened to you that day. It could be as simple as someone holding the door open for you at the grocery store or taking a moment to appreciate a beautiful blue-sky day. Seeing daily delights can do a lot to lift your spirits.
- Move your body. Going for a walk, getting fresh air, or doing something that’s physically engaging can do wonders for your disposition. It’s also a great way to maintain a healthy weight, which also helps with diabetes management!
- Lean on your loved ones. Reach out to friends and family when you need support, companionship, or just a little distracting conversation. Simply being around people we enjoy can be enough to put a smile on our faces and remind us why our self-care matters.
- Indulge your whims. Do what makes you happy! If you love to read, head to the library to load up on some great books. If gardening gets you going, tend to your plants. If you crave quiet time, do some meditating or take a yoga class.
If you’re looking for more ways to help manage your stress levels – and in turn, manage your blood sugar levels – talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you identify what’s causing your stress and offer solutions or suggestions that can help, including a referral to a mental health specialist. Whatever you need for stress management and to get you back on track is a step in the right direction.