Stress Can Aggravate Diabetes
Find out how stress affects your blood-sugar levels and learn how to better manage it.

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Stress Can Aggravate Diabetes

We all have days when we feel we just can't take much more. Stress in our daily lives can come from a variety of sources - family, work, finances and relationships. But if you have diabetes, stress can pose particular problems because of its potential effect on blood sugar.

Nevertheless, don't feel hopeless about stress. Instead, you can find new ways to cope with and help manage the stressful situations you face.

Stress and blood sugar
When you are under acute stress, your body acts as if it's being attacked. This fight-or-flight response raises the levels of many hormones in your body, including insulin. Your body also pumps stored energy, in the form of blood sugar and fat, into your bloodstream to help you get away from the perceived threat. The fight-or-flight response may not work as well in people with diabetes. Insulin may not be able to let the extra energy into the cells, causing glucose to build up in the blood.

Here are some positive ways you can help cope with your stress:

Get active! Regular exercise helps regulate blood sugar and control weight. It also lowers the risk for heart disease and nerve damage. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week and at least two days of strength training. However, be sure to check with your doctor to find out what activities are safe for you.

Chill. Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation therapy and mindfulness techniques are some popular ways to take a break from stress. If you can't use one of these methods, walk away or take a short break from the cause of your stress.

Eat healthfully. These approaches include a Mediterranean-style eating plan, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), plant-based (vegan or vegetarian) and lower-carbohydrate pattern. Work with your doctor or registered dietitian to figure out the best eating plan for you.

Think positively. Try replacing a negative thought with a positive one. Or swap it for a poem, prayer or quote. Read an inspirational book.

Get support or help. Joining a support group for people with diabetes may help you not feel so alone. Your diabetes care team may have referrals. Support groups are either in person or online. If the stress is overwhelming, you may want to consider counseling or psychotherapy.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer
Created on 03/30/2004
Updated on 10/08/2014
  • American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes—2014.
  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. What I need to know about eating and diabetes.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staying healthy with diabetes.
  • American Diabetes Association. Living with diabetes. Stress.
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