Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
Blood sugar by itself is not a problem. In fact, our body needs 82-110 mg/dl of glucose in the blood to keep our body parts running.
The release of this sugar, in the form of glucose, takes place when our pancreas secrete the hormone glucagon into the blood. This hormone triggers the liver and muscles in our body to convert the stored glycogen into glucose that is released into the bloodstream to fuel our vital organs. But the amount of glucose in the blood needs to be regulated. High levels of blood glucose can damage our nerves and arteries. To regulate their levels, the pancreas also secretes insulin, a hormone that prevents the sugar from hanging around in the bloodstream for too long.
What happens during stress
Stress, broadly defined, is a challenge put to the body. It could be in an emotional or a physiological form. Surveys have revealed that most people fall prey to work-related stress(1). Emotional stress is seen in the form of anger, anxiety, fear, excitement and tension. Physiological stress includes any illness, pain or injury.
Dealing with stress requires energy. So when in stress, the adrenal gland triggers a rise in glucose levels in the blood to meet the increased energy required during a stress reaction. While sugar in the blood gets regulated by insulin in people without diabetes, those with diabetes struggle to get their sugar levels back to normal.
Sustained high sugar levels in the blood disrupt basic bodily functions and damage blood vessels. Because stress triggers an increase in blood sugar, it is not entirely healthy, especially for people suffering from diabetes.
How to manage stress
1. Be aware of your stress
Stress can creep up undetected as we go about our daily activities. So keep an eye on the surge of emotions or physical activities. Be aware of situations and your reactions to them. In times when you know you are stressed, check your blood sugar level. Be mindful of that spike and if you anticipate a rise in stress levels, take deep breaths and prepare your body to stay calm. While stress may still affect your body, mindfulness can blunt the spike it causes in blood sugar level. Also, keep a dose of insulin handy during such times (only if you have been prescribed insulin).
Stress usually happens when our body is firefighting a situation. Often, it is our emotions going out of control that causes the rise in stress levels. This happens when we do not know how to deal with certain situations. It also happens when our mind gets stuck in a loop of negative thoughts that don’t contribute to problem-solving. Meditation helps in making you aware and by taking your mind off the trigger. Meditation has proved useful in cutting through the anxiety loop so you can take control of the situation(2).
3. Take control
You might not have control over physical stress related to an illness or injury, but in scenarios that you can anticipate, be the one in charge. Be proactive about what you can do to handle a stressful situation. Read up about stress management and the way to remain in control. A simple and trusted trick here is to plan ahead. By laying out your schedule and addressing basic action steps in advance, you decrease the pressure of thinking on your toes throughout the day.
4. Talk talk talk
A good way to deal with stress is to talk about it. If there’s something bothering you, seek help. Talk to people who can pull you out of it quickly. Apart from solving the problem, it will help to ease your stress levels. Right at the moment, if there is no one to talk to, talking to yourself in the third person has also been proven beneficial, according to latest studies(3).
While sweating it out has clear benefits of keeping your weight in check and body in shape, exercise has a direct effect on stress too. It busts stress with the feel-good hormone called endorphin. So, if it is mental stress you are dealing with, do a light physical activity. Move about, go for a walk or get a house chore done. This triggers the release of endorphins which instantly decrease the stress levels in the body(4).
By exercising regularly, you train your body to feel good consistently. In the long-run, it decreases the onslaught of stress and even during the times you are stressed, it helps your body deal with it effectively. Read these safety tips that you must keep in mind while exercising.
A clear effect of this is seen on blood sugar that does not spike during stressful situations. So, a great way to keep stress out of your system, especially if you are dealing with diabetes, is to work out regularly. A word of caution here: consult your doctor before beginning any physical regimen as it could lead to strain on your body, which can again mess with your blood sugar levels.
- Blood sugar fluctuations by Dr Ananya Mandal, MD https://www.news-medical.net/health/Blood-Sugar-Normal-Values.aspx
- Mindfulness, meditation may ease anxiety, mental-stress https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967
- Making meaning out of negative experiences by self-distracting http://selfcontrol.psych.lsa.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/2011_1_Kross_Ayduk_CDPS1.pdf
- Exercise reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress https://www.princeton.edu/news/2013/07/03/exercise-reorganizes-brain-be-more-resilient-stress