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How do emotions affect blood glucose

Your emotions affect your blood glucose. How you feel can have a huge impact on your blood glucose. We all know what it’s like to get angry about something, and notice our blood glucose rising… Which just makes us angrier, and keeps our blood glucose sky high.

But how do emotions really affect our diabetes control, and is there anything we can do about it?

Comfort eating

There are two ways that emotions affect blood glucose: an indirect pathway, and a direct pathway. The indirect pathway is lifestyle related. If you’re feeling sad or anxious or depressed, you’re less likely to be eating the right kind of food, exercising and keeping on top of your diabetes. Think about comfort eating: when you’re in emotional distress, you crave something that will give your brain a dopamine spike. That’s why unhealthy food is so appealing when you’re feeling stressed out.

Cortisol spike

But there’s a hormonal side to emotions, too, and this is the direct pathway. It all centres on the HPA axis, which is the link between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal gland. When your fear response is triggered (when you feel afraid, anxious or depressed), your HPA axis becomes overactive. This sets off a cascade of responses that result in cortisol flooding the body. And do you know what cortisol is really useful for? Fight or flight. When your ancestors needed a boost of energy to run away from a lion, it was great to have cortisol and adrenaline in the system. It triggered the liver to dump glucose into the bloodstream to give the energy to run away from that lion.

Now? If you’re feeling stressed, sleep-deprived, depressed or anxious, your body reacts as if you’re running away from a lion. Cortisol leads to insulin resistance, which leads to high blood glucose, which leads to irritability and headaches and the diabetes rollercoaster everyone wants to avoid.

Emotions affect blood glucose

Recognising that fact is essential. Difficult emotional states affect blood glucose, quite profoundly. Being aware of this is the first step. The next step is learning how to calm your emotions when you can feel yourself being triggered.

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.