We blogged about the multiple links between stress and diabetes in September last year (“Can Stress & Anxiety Cause Diabetes?”) Unsurprisingly, the situation has not improved over the past challenging months, thanks to COVID-19 and other stressors.
So, let’s re-cap: Everyone can feel stressed from time to time. Having diabetes to manage as well as everything else in life can feel overwhelming.
Effects of Stress
Stress can affect your blood sugar levels, so it’s important you know how to recognize when you’re stressed and how to deal with it. Stress has been proven to instigate changes in blood sugar levels. It can be caused by a diabetes diagnosis, adjusting to a diabetes treatment regimen, or dealing with psychosocial pressures of the disease.
Here’s the medical situation: people with diabetes are who regularly stressed are more likely to have poor blood glucose control. Just being told you have diabetes can cause stress. Stress hormones such as cortisol increase the amount of sugar in our blood. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome, one of the lesser-known causes of diabetes.
Constant stress and frustration caused by long term problems with blood glucose regulation can also wear people down and cause them to neglect their diabetes care. For example, they may start to ignore their blood sugar levels or simply forget to check them. Or they may adopt poor lifestyle habits, such as exercising less, eating more junk or processed foods, drinking more alcohol, and smoking. This is known as diabetes burnout.
What is chronic stress?
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on the mind and body which is why it is so important to find ways to control it. Cortisol increases glucose into the bloodstream, which then enhances the brain’s use of sugar. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or lived with diabetes for a long time, you may need support for all the emotions you’re feeling. This could be stress, feeling low and depressed, or burnt out. The people around you can feel all of this too. Whatever you’re feeling, you are not alone. Here’s some information you might find help. Things may feel more scary and uncertain because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the experience of living with diabetes and the stresses it brings may make those with diabetes more prepared to cope with this situation than most people.
If you’re finding yourself worrying, it might help to try to focus on the things that you can control in your life. Focusing your mind on things out of your control won’t change things. This can lead to worry, so gently try to redirect your attention.
It’s not easy to stop feelings of anxiety and worry, and these are completely normal responses given the current circumstance. You can’t control your feelings, but you can control what you do with them.
Talking helps – Kindness and reaching out
Talking about diabetes and how it’s making you feel isn’t always easy. Maybe you don’t feel like you need to talk about anything, or you don’t want to burden anyone. Offloading some of what you’re feeling has so many benefits, both for you and for those close to you.
If these feelings won’t go away, you might have depression. Having depression and diabetes is more common than you might think – people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop depression than people who don’t have diabetes.
Diabetes can put more of a focus on food and diet. Having to pay close to attention to what you eat and learn new ways to cook can be stressful. Some people find they eat more when they’re stressed or eat less because they’re feeling low, often leading to a fixation on weight and body image. This can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, possibly an eating disorder. Diabulimia is a serious eating disorder that people with Type 1 diabetes can develop.
It’s a complicated road, indeed.
Here’s another interesting angle: being kind to others is not only a positive way to live life, but can also benefit stress levels and brain function, according to new research.
Kindness launches a physiological reaction that can reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can impact the memory and impair how the brain works, so anything that reduces the hormone is a good thing.
Reaching out, especially for the benefit of others, forces us to see a world that is bigger than our own successes and failures. It reminds us that our life is defined by how we live it moment-to-moment, not by the successes or failures of our various endeavors.
Reaching out gives us a sense of meaning that is bigger than ourselves. It gives us a reason for action beyond our own selfish interests, and it can help us to keep going even when our own lives ARE filled with some pain. For those of us who struggle with a chronic disease that can cause significant pain, fear, and anxiety, life must mean more than just our own comfort.
Practicing kindness forces us to put our attention on the present moment. We tend to spend a great of our lives in the future. But for those living with diabetes, this future focus can mean worrying about complications, worrying about losing control, and filling our lives with anxiety about might happen.