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Stress and Diabetes

The stress of a chronic diagnosis like diabetes can be stressful enough on its own. Add to that the rigors of new treatments, and your body is likely to feel the strain. But it’s important to manage stress in these situations. Stress has been shown to affect glucose levels, and can weaken your immune system, increasing the likelihood of complications like blood vessel and heart diseases. With that in mind, stress management is a key treatment for keeping diabetes in check.

Before we get into how to control it, let’s take a look at why stress causes the changes in our body that it does. As humans evolved, we developed a fight-or-flight response to danger. When our bodies sense a threat, our blood pressure and heart rate increases. Our muscles tense. And our energy storage (like fat) release the energy our muscles need. Great if you’re faced with a sabretooth tiger, but not so great if you’re trying to manage your blood glucose levels.

The good news is, there are ways to fight this natural response. While this is usually involuntary, patients afflicted with high stress levels can learn to “turn off” this response through breathing and relaxation techniques. This is not to say that learning these techniques will eliminate your diabetes symptoms. However, they may help to manage your glucose levels and keep you healthier and more mindful of what your body is telling you.

Controlled breathing is a simple technique that can help you focus on your body. We’ve all heard the old technique of counting to 10 when we’re angry. Well, that works with stress management, too. Try sitting in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and breathe deeply into your abdomen. Count your breaths, starting at 9 and going backwards to 0. Then start back at 9 and repeat the process, being mindful to keep your focus on each breath.

Meditation is another common practice that can help reduce stress. Here again, focus on your breathing in a comfortable position. Then let your mind go as blank as possible. As stressful thoughts and images enter your mind, acknowledge them and then dismiss them, keeping your focus on the controlled in and out of your breaths. For some people, repeating a simple mantra can help to let go of negative thoughts and release stress. Try this at least once a day for 10-20 minutes.

No matter how stressful life gets, keep these techniques in mind. Give yourself the time you need to calm down, relax and settle into your environment. It may just be the extra boost your body needs to help keep you in control.