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Stressed man testing his blood sugar

Dangerous Duo: How to Better Manage Diabetes & Stress

By Kristy Warren

 

Did you know people managing a chronic condition like diabetes are more prone to negative impacts from stress? November marks National Diabetes Awareness Month, but when we think diabetes, we tend to think about pricking our fingers or what’s on our plate. We may even picture glucose monitors and insulin, but few of us imagine chronic stress.

 

Anxiety and worry around managing a chronic condition all day, every day, can become a source of long-term stress that impacts both our mental and physical health. The Laurel Health Centers share how diabetes shapes our stress levels and what can be done to better manage both.

WHAT CAUSES STRESS?

Stress is our body’s reaction to a perceived physical or emotional threat, and it can come from many sources. Stress can be prompted by dangerous situations, hectic commutes, upheavals in our personal lives, big projects, difficult relationships, injuries or illness, demanding jobs, and ongoing worries about our health, finances, or future. 

 

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS GOOD AND BAD STRESS?

We all get stressed out now and again, and it isn’t always a bad thing—but not all types of stress are equal. Short-term stress serves the evolutionary purpose of making us extra alert so that we can react to our surroundings faster and more successfully in dangerous situations (e.g., carefully navigating a rocky cliff). Nowadays, the short-term stress experienced preparing for a project can drive us to perform better and finish before a deadline.

However, stress that isn’t well-contained or limited to a specific window of time can have serious adverse effects. Long-term stress that is reoccurring, all-consuming, or continuous can have negative impacts on our health.

For example, the daily stress of a toxic work environment, job burnout, or perpetual financial struggles can create dangerous ongoing stress and a host of negative health side effects.

Woman stressed over health and work

HOW STRESS IMPACTS DIABETES


Stress is tied to our “fight or flight” response. When we experience stress, our body and mind go into high alert to better handle the stressful situation, releasing hormones like cortisol. These hormones are intended to give us a short-term boost in dealing with the challenge in a hyper-alert state. Cortisol makes our heart pump faster, our breathing speed up, and signals our body to tap into its energy stores for extra support.

 

In people with diabetes, this “fight or flight” response does not function as well. When stress triggers the call for extra energy, insulin issues can keep glucose and fat reserves from transferring successfully into our cells. When they aren’t properly absorbed into our cells, they can build up in the blood instead, driving up blood sugar levels and stashing fat into long-term storage.

 

DEFINING DIABETES DISTRESS

 

The stress of managing diabetes can lead to a condition known as diabetes distress. Diabetes-related distress encompasses many feelings and reactions related to living with and treating this condition—from anxiety over what the future holds to fear surrounding possible diabetic complications to feeling depressed or discouraged when health goals are not met.

 

When balancing a chronic condition like diabetes on top of 2020’s daily stressors, it’s an easy recipe for burnout and breakdowns. Distress can leave us feeling overwhelmed or worn out to the point that we feel unable to think about anything else, engage with others, or effectively manage our condition.

 

TIPS FOR TAMING STRESS

  • Learn what stresses you out: Identifying your stress triggers is the first step in managing your stress—reflect on what stresses you out and dig deeper into the underlying “whys.” Knowing these triggers can help you better limit, avoid, and manage certain sources of stress.

  • Breathe: Not everyone likes to meditate, but we should all take a moment to just breathe. A few minutes of slow breathing can make you feel more centered and clear your mind.

  • Take a timeout: When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, step back and take a moment for yourself. Pause. Give yourself space to reflect, then ask yourself if this is a big or small problem, how much it will matter in a year, and recalibrate your plan of attack accordingly.

  • Reframe situations: Finding the positive in a stressful situation can be hard but looking for something good in the bad can help you keep a brighter outlook and stay focused on what matters most to you.

  • Find the right coping tools: Sample a few different ways to relax and unwind to discover what works for you. Whether it’s comedy, music, cooking, reading, exercise, dancing, warm baths, or a little quiet time, finding the right coping mechanism means you’re more likely to stick to it.

  • See a professional: Managing diabetes can be draining, and sometimes, it’s too much to handle on our own. If you need support, consider making an appointment with the Laurel Health Centers or Laurel Behavioral Health. Together, we can create a treatment plan to better manage your diabetes and stress.

 

WHEN YOU NEED A HELPING HAND

 

If you or your loved ones are feeling stressed or distressed over diabetes, a healthcare professional can help lighten the load. At Laurel Health, we’re here for you 24/7.

 

Laurel Behavioral Health's dedicated, experienced therapists provide healthy ways to cope with stress & anxiety, and the Laurel Health Centers' provider team helps prevent, diagnose, and manage diabetes for people of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay. Laurel Health offers confidential counseling, medical nutrition therapy, one-on-one health education, support services, and care coordination to connect you to additional diabetes management resources. 

 

To make an appointment with the Laurel Health Centers, call 1-833-LAURELHC (1-833-528-7354) or visit our contact page. To reach our Laurel Behavioral Health experts, call 570-723-0620

 

For more information on Laurel Health services, tackling diabetes, or coping tools, stay tuned to our news page.

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