Everyday stress exists regardless of whether you have diabetes. It is an equal-opportunity irritant. Stress can flare up with work deadlines, family dynamics, within a marriage or relationship, the ongoing demand for time despite unrelenting to-do lists, or even the morning commute.
But diabetes makes stress worse.
Whether you have type 1 or type 2, managing stress is imperative. It can be difficult to manage diabetes to the best of our abilities even in the best of times, but stress and related mental health issues just make it even more challenging to spend the time we should on our health.
How Stress Affects People with Diabetes
Stress can have both direct and indirect effects on the health of people with diabetes:
Stress can easily cause us to neglect our self-care. When we’re feeling overwhelmed we might cut corners, less actively monitor our blood sugar, reach for junk food, or even get less than adequate sleep. In more extreme cases of diabetes burnout, patients find themselves neglecting the most important elements of diabetes care, and risking real health consequences as a result.
Stress hormones may also directly increase glucose levels. Stress may also drive insulin resistance, a central feature of type 2 diabetes and a frustrating complication in type 1 diabetes.
Mindfulness, while a wonderful and necessary practice, can be hard to observe when life stokes the fires of our daily stressors. So, as a gentle reminder that we all are worthy of continued self-care, here are five concrete ways to untangle stress as life marches on.
5 Ways to Manage Stress
Think positive: it may sound lame and unrealistic, but positive thinking actually works! Retrain your brain to anticipate the best possible outcome instead of the worst. While it can be very difficult to endure a stressful day, week, or longer, remind yourself that there are sunnier days ahead. Plan for your happiness and health by blocking off time to check blood sugars after a meal, to exercise and get some fresh air, and to remind yourself daily that you are your most valuable resource.
Get outdoors and spend time in nature: There is so much evidence that time spent outdoors helps reduce stress. Just going outside helps improve mental health by alleviating time stress, distracting us from our grinding routines, and releasing happy chemicals like serotonin. Nature, even in the form of urban parks, helps you focus on the big picture and forget about life’s petty annoyances.
Try a stress-relief app and chart your way to happiness: One of our writers is a huge fan of Daylio, a journal and mood tracker that helps users become more aware of what triggers stressful or unpleasant reactions; it can also help folks create healthier habits, such as running, eating more healthfully, and waking up earlier. Happify, Personal Zen, and Headspace are other apps, among many others on the market, that can help encourage you to take a moment for yourself, in addition to taking a deep breath.
Exercise: It works much more than just our muscles! The science is clear: exercise is a powerful stress reducer. Whether you choose to hike, walk, run, practice yoga, swim, or even just putter around the backyard, exercise is a highly recommended way to cope with stress. When you workout, endorphins trigger positive feelings in the brain and body akin to morphine — talk about a natural mood booster!
The challenge, however, is that when we feel stressed, exercise might seem like the last activity we have time or energy for. It’s not easy, but making time for exercise when life is bananas might be the best coping strategy to reduce stress.
Practice gratitude: Gratitude — taking time to consider what you’re thankful for — can counter stress. And 2017 research reveals individuals who count their blessings are more likely to take care of their health, including exercising more and attending regular check-ups. There’s more than one way to get in the habit of thankfulness. Adam Brown of diaTribe swears by the intention-setting practice of handwriting what he is grateful for every single morning. There are also many gratitude apps, for those who are more tech-inclined.
Diabetes and stress, unfortunately, tend to go hand in hand. It can be easy to get overwhelmed. Hopefully these five tips can help keep you on track.