How does stress affect people with diabetes?

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. When severe stress takes hold, your blood sugar may go up because of stress hormones.

You can’t control the stressors in your life — but you don’t have to let them control you.

Since stress affects blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should have strategies to cope with everyday stress. Try these tips:

Get enough sleep. A good night’s sleep does more than make us feel good and function better. It also regulates hormones that control our appetite, weight, and blood glucose level. Both high and low blood sugar levels can impact your sleep, making you tired and irritable the next day, and more likely to make poor food choices. Setting up a calming nighttime routine can help you unwind.

The first step is to limit caffeinated drinks in the afternoon. Also, make sure that your bed is comfortable and that your room is cool and well ventilated. You should also try to go to bed roughly at the same time each day so that your mind and body can get used to a predictable bedtime routine.

Note: Some medications can cause insomnia. If you have diabetes and insomnia, consult your pharmacist or your doctor to determine how your medications may be affecting your sleep.

Get a move on! In addition to keeping your weight and blood sugar down, exercise increases the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. No need to join a gym. Just move more, whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to the local mall instead of driving. If you can, try to walk in natural surroundings. The sounds and sights of nature can help your mood. Another bonus? Regular exercise helps you sleep better.

Note: When you’re more active than usual, your blood sugar may drop too low (hypoglycemia). If you’re taking insulin or other oral medications, talk with your diabetes health care team about adjusting your dose.

Take time out. Stress blows things out of proportion, so taking time to relax can help put things into perspective. Try meditating for a few minutes each day. Find a comfortable position in a quiet spot and concentrate on the natural flow of your breath, feeling each inhale and exhale. Aim for 5 to 10 minutes a day.

Watch the negative self-talk. While it’s important to acknowledge a stressful situation, try not to obsess about it. For example, instead of telling yourself that you’ll never get your blood sugar in your target range, remind yourself of the times your readings were pretty close.

Get support. Experts are beginning to recognize the links between social support and physical health. So reach out. This can include family, friends, or someone else with diabetes who knows exactly what you’re going through. Remember, diabetes management can be difficult, so don’t be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help.

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