Six Ways to Lower Stress with Diabetes

Work, family, school, traffic, finances, and relationships are common sources of stress for many of us. Add diabetes management and you may feel totally overwhelmed.

It’s really important to learn and practice wellness coping techniques to stay on a healthy track.  Often stress can lead to overeating, undereating, drinking excessive alcohol or being less active, which, for some with type 1 diabetes can lead to high blood glucose levels and illness.

When I feel the stress levels start to climb (or even before then) just to continue to feel well and positive, I open my healthy coping toolbox. Here are six tools I use to stay healthy and keep stress at bay.

My Support Network. These are my family and friends, the ones I can turn to when I need emotional support, to just talk or listen without judgment. Sometimes it is helpful to have friends who also have diabetes, who understand what it’s like to live with diabetes, every day, 24/7.

Incidentally, I found some interesting research on this topic. The Framingham Heart Study followed participants over the course of 20 years and found that a person’s level of happiness was related to the happiness of their social networks. If a person had a happy friend who lived within a mile, they themselves were 25% more likely to be happy. In addition, it found that a person’s happiness can be related to the happiness of someone separated by up to three degrees (a friend of a friend of a friend).

Alternatively, low levels of social interaction were found to have a negative impact on life span. Nearly equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic and twice as harmful as being obese.

Our body’s chemicals play a role in our social connections. The hormone, oxytocin, influences social behavior by increasing relationship bonds and trust.

Get Moving. When we are active, our brains release chemicals called endorphins that actually make us feel better.  For me, even something as simple as a little walk outside in the fresh air is sometimes just enough to turn a negative feeling into a positive feeling. And activities such as yoga and meditation also provide mental health benefits.

Eat Healthy. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” It’s true! More and more studies are finding that a nutritious diet, low in sugar and simple carbohydrates is not only good for the body, it’s great for the brain and mental health.  Collectively, these results have given rise to a concept called “nutritional (or food) psychiatry.”

A large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. According to the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, "a healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”

Drink Water. Our brains depend on proper hydration to function optimally. Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and various elements to operate, and when we lose too much water, that balance is disrupted; our brain cells lose efficiency.

According to an article in Psychology Today, years of research have found that when we're parched, we have more difficulty keeping focused. Dehydration can impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory. The ability to perform mental arithmetic, like calculating whether or not you'll be late for work if you hit snooze for another 15 minutes, is compromised when our fluids are low.

So indeed, water makes our minds feel good. More of the “feel good” hormones (that also come from exercise) are able to fire through the brain to improve overall mood. Because mood has a direct impact on how productive we can be throughout the day, people with elevated moods often experience higher levels of productivity in contrast to those with lower moods. It sort of ties into how people suffering from major depression often experience a lack of motivation to do anything commonly seen as enjoyable.

Think Positively. When I feel stressed out, I try to think about and celebrate any successes I’ve had recently in managing my diabetes, even tiny ones like just testing my blood sugar. I focus my thoughts on people who bring a smile to my face, and activities and events that I enjoy that make me feel happy and alive.  Just remembering good times is often enough to get me through more challenging times.

Give Myself a Pat on the Back (or a Hug). I do so much every day to manage my life and my health. I try to be good to myself and to give myself a lot of credit.  I don’t beat myself up if I fall short of achieving perfect control because maybe I am expecting too much of myself. Maybe I’m trying to control things that are truly beyond my control.  I do my best. I review what worked and what didn’t, then let it go and do something that I love!

Living with diabetes, we all have our good days and bad days.  And it’s normal to feel upset or angry about the bad days.  Sometimes, when I try the tools above and the stress still feels overwhelming, I know I can always seek out help from my endocrinologist, diabetes educator, or friends for help coping, getting back to being joyful and enjoying life.

Written by Joanne Milo