I’m so excited to introduce you to Gabi Richter, a Type 1 diabetic and counsellor, and a new member on our Panel of Experts who’s going to be dealing specifically with the emotional side of diabetes with a monthly column. Let us know if you have any specific questions for her! Today she’s talking about stress and diabetes.
It does not matter how long you have been diabetic, for whether it is years or if you are newly diagnosed, living with a chronic condition comes with a certain amount of stress. How you manage that stress will determine the effects it can have on your sugar levels. To much stress or mismanaged stress can affect control of your levels, however having diabetes with its constant control and management can cause stress. Therefore we need to find a workable and manageable balance between the two.
There are many definitions of stress but simply put: stress happens when pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope. It is an emotional strain or tension that occurs when we feel that we can’t cope with pressure.
Research shows a physiological difference between pressure and stress,
People experiencing stress have higher levels of various stress hormones in their blood stream then those that merely feel challenged. When we are stressed, the body releases hormones that give cells access to stored energy known as fat and glucose to help you get away from perceived danger. This instinctive response is known as the Fight, Flight or Freeze response.
When we are confronted by a threat, a hormone called cortisol are released to help us get ready to either Fight, Flight or Freeze. This hormone allows for the increase in blood sugar for energy and an increase in blood pressure for fresh oxygen to flow to the working muscles and the release of adrenaline for heightened vigilance and alertness. However, in diabetics this instinctive response does not work well since insulin is needed to get the stored energy (glucose) to the cells and we either do not produce insulin or we produce too much of it. We are then left with an excess build-up of glucose in the blood, which results in higher levels and one more thing we need to manage and worry about.
In today’s world, it is impossible to fully avoid stress even in small doses and since the body is still programmed to release this hormone whenever it detects a threat, we as diabetics are at a bit of a disadvantage and therefore need to have a good stress management plan in place that we can fall back on when we feel stressed.
Stress can be brought on by a number of factors: a higher Hba1c or a new treatment plan or even being late and getting stuck in traffic. And then of course work and family expectations – all of these situations will lead to some level of stress. It is never a good idea to ignore stress and to think that emotions like anger and sadness don’t affect our levels, because unfortunately that is wrong and as we know everything can affect us. Ongoing stress can wear you down and lead to poor management of levels: this in turn can then lead to depression.
As diabetics we need to always look at the bigger picture and have many management programmes in place. The simplest one I have found for stress so far is to rate my stress on a scale of 1 to 10 when testing my levels and to make a note next to each reading. This will allow you to see if your high or low reading could possibly coincide with stress of any kind.
When dealing with everyday situations in life, we need to try and remember that stress of any kind is not good. Our bodies are wired to cope with a small amount of stress and for a short period, however if we continue to stress for a long period this will have negative effects on our heath. It will not only lead to depression but has also been known to lower the immune system which in turn will make us more prone to colds and illness. Therefore, we need to try and take many deep breaths when we feel overwhelmed, and to try and find ways that we can relax. Even if that means having coffee with a friend and simply talking about our problems.
– Gabi Richter