How Stress Can Affect Your Blood Sugar

Diabetes Care|Jan.09, 2020

Stress can affect nearly every aspect of your life, including your physical, mental and emotional well-being. It can influence sleeping patterns, increase anxiety and affect memory and concentration. And for those with diabetes, the effects can be even more dire. In response to stress, blood sugar often increases in those with type 2 diabetes. In those with type 1 diabetes, mental stress can lead to either an increase or decrease in blood sugar without any known pattern, which doctors are still trying to understand.

Managing stress by participating in activities such as relaxation therapies, meditation or art is key to healthy living. When you're able to manage your stress well, you're better equipped to effectively overcome the side effects of diabetes and live a fulfilling, healthy life.

The Stress-Sugar Connection

Stress contributes to a number of issues, such as headaches, bad moods, sleep problems and heart disease. If you have diabetes, stress can also affect your blood sugar levels.

Research shows that physical and mental stress can significantly influence your blood sugar levels. While physical stressors, such as illness, surgery or injury, generally cause blood sugar levels to increase, mental or emotional stress can go either way depending on the type of diabetes you have, says Rachel Johnson, R.D., a registered dietitian with Abbott who specialises in diabetes management.

So what's really happening inside your body when you're stressed? When you feel stressed, you're feeling the effects of cortisol and adrenaline — the body's fight or flight hormones. Released when your body perceives a threat — whether that's a vicious animal in your peripheral vision or a looming work deadline — the hormones trigger your body to release extra glucose, or blood sugar, for a boost of energy, Johnson explains. This happens for all people, but those with diabetes have trouble processing glucose, which means this surge can stay too high.

Stress can also affect your blood sugar indirectly by causing you to forget about your regular diabetes care routine. When you're stressed out, it can be easy to forget to test your blood sugar, take your medications or inject insulin on time.

Mental stress, and the busy schedule that typically goes along with it, can also affect your activity levels and influence what foods you choose to eat.

Is Stress Responsible for Blood Sugar Swings?

One of the best ways to determine if there's a stress-sugar connection is with a diabetes logbook. Each day, rate your stress level on a scale of one to 10 — one being no stress, and 10 being all-out madness. After a week or two, go back and see if you notice any relationship between your daily stress levels and your blood sugar management.

Discuss any findings with your doctor and come up with a plan together to not only manage your blood sugar levels better, but to reduce your stress, too. In addition, take a look at your everyday schedule to find time for stress-relieving activities, such as yoga and meditation.

Take These Steps to Reduce Mental Stress

Take a breather. Controlled deep-breathing exercises can help reduce the negative effects of stress while also curbing inflammation. Try taking slow, deep breaths while relaxing your muscles for five to 20 minutes whenever you're feeling especially stressed.

Revisit your schedule. Look for ways you can streamline it to increase efficiency or get rid of excess obligations, Johnson says. Remember, it's OK to say no from time to time.

Catch some z's. Lack of sleep can also lead to emotional stress. A study published in Diabetes Care found that people with type 2 diabetes who slept less than 4.5 hours a night had higher blood sugar levels than those who slept an average of 6.5 to 7.4 hours a night.

Exercise. Regular exercise is linked with reduced stress, improved alertness, increased concentration and heightened energy levels, Johnson said. The National Health Portal recommends that adults under the age of 64 engage in 150 minutes or more of physical activity every week. This activity of your choosing — such as a fitness class or brisk walking — should be spread over at least three days per week, with no more than two consecutive days without activity.

Don't stress about stress. It's a normal part of life and there's no way to avoid it completely — but understanding and practising a variety of management tactics can help you feel better more and keep it from getting to your health.


Disclaimer: This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.