How Stress and Blood Sugar Are Connected

6 mins read

January 20, 2021

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Did you know about the connection between stress and blood sugar? If you have diabetes, you must be aware of how eating specific foods affect sugar control. 

But food is not the only cause of high sugar levels. Stress is also a factor.

In fact, stress impacts your health in many ways. It can cause digestive disturbances, headaches, mood swings, and increased sugar levels. For improved health, you have to learn to manage your stress levels.


What Is Stress?

Stress is the way you experience any change. It can impact your body and health physically, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and chemically. You may suffer from work-related, environmental, financial, or health stresses at different times. Sometimes you may have more than one stressor. 

The highest stress-causing events are death, divorce, disease, or loss of a job. Basically, any type of loss or change can be stressful. 

Different kinds of stress are: 

  • Acute stress – this occurs for a short period. If you face a dangerous situation or an event where you feel powerless, you may experience the flight or fight response. Humans experience this from time immemorial as it was part of a survival mechanism when they faced danger from the wild and from others. This kind of stress usually resolves when the threat has passed. 
  • Chronic stress – when a stressful situation continues over a long period, you can suffer from chronic stress. This can happen if you are in an unhappy relationship, you are not satisfied with your job, or you have a health condition that may or may not be resolved, or any other reason. Occasionally acute stress can turn chronic if you cannot deal with the stressor and get on top of it. 
  • Traumatic stress – a traumatic event can cause this kind of stress. If you face danger to your life during the war, accident, or natural disaster, you can feel highly stressed, and this may take time to resolve. Some people suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that impacts their life in many ways. This needs professional help.

When any form of stress impacts your life, it also affects your health. 


Is All Stress Bad?

While stress has negative connotations, all stress is not bad. If you had no stressors in your life, you would not be able to get lots of things done. For instance, if you do not have deadlines, you may keep procrastinating. Stress that has positive effects is known as eustress. 

If you are in a new job, relationship, house, or state, you may feel stressed, but in a good way. You will feel excited and look forward to new situations and being able to cope with them. This kind of stress improves your physical and mental well-being.

Similarly, when you exercise or adopt a new fitness regimen, you expose your body to stress. Every time you lift weights, you are stressing your muscles, bones, and even your skin. This helps keep you fit and tones your body. 


The Connection Between Stress And Blood Sugar 

Any time you face a stressful situation, your body releases hormones to deal with it. 

The three main stress hormones are:

  • Adrenaline – also known as the flight or fight hormone and is released by the adrenal glands. It allows you to feel focused, gives you more energy and strength to deal with a situation. Once the incident is over, you may feel your heartbeat has increased, and you are sweating more than usual. You may also feel exhilarated at coming out of the situation or feeling nervous about what you just faced.
  • Norepinephrine – this chemical is released by the adrenal glands and the brain. It works similarly as adrenaline but is a back-up hormone. It can work alongside adrenaline or instead of it if your body does not release sufficient adrenaline. 
  • Cortisol – this is actually the stress hormone. It is released slower than adrenaline and norepinephrine. When a lot of cortisol floods the system during acute stress or a constant stream is released during chronic stress, it increases blood sugar levels in the body. 

Since the body’s reaction to any stress requires more energy from you, it releases more sugar into the system. This is how stress and blood sugar are connected. 


What Is Diabetes Distress

Do you know there is something known as diabetes distress? This is yet another form of stress that is experienced by people who have diabetes. This kind of stress is an example of the direct connection between stress and blood sugar. 

A diagnosis of diabetes can up-end your entire life. Suddenly you have to be aware of what you eat, how much you exercise, how much medicine or insulin you need to take. You must have a great deal of knowledge and information on how to tackle your diabetes, more so when there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. 

This self-management can also cause stress, and this is what is known as diabetes distress. Daily testing, daily changes, not being able to eat the foods you want, restricting or eliminating alcohol, sweets, sodas, and eating only low glycemic index foods to manage your diabetes can also cause stress.

Diabetes distress can result in poor sugar management and increased sugar levels in your body. Apart from stress releasing more sugar into your body, poor management aggravates the sugar levels, and this tells you how stress and blood sugar are connected. It can cause exhaustion and even lead to risk-taking behavior that can increase sugar levels further, becoming a vicious cycle. 


How Can You Overcome Stress

When you have diabetes, you have all the more reason to take care of your stress. It is vital to managing your diabetes better and not letting it permeate all parts of your life. 

Here are some things you can do to overcome stress (or make it work for you):

Exercise – even brief periods of walking can help relax you and enable you to deal better with stress. If you can exercise in a gym or join an exercise class, you are away from whatever troubles you, and you can just focus on your physical fitness. This decreases stress levels in your body and reduces blood sugar levels in more ways than one.

Meditation – any kind of meditation can help. Whether it is spiritual meditation, cognitive therapy, or even mindfulness while exercising (yoga, tai-chi), controlled breathing. All these have a positive effect of reducing stress. 

Journaling – keeping a gratitude journal or writing your thoughts down in a diary will prove to be a stress-buster. If you write down all that you are grateful for daily or any positive things that happened to you every day, you will calm your brain down and release positivity. This will decrease stress and improve blood sugar control. 

Hobby – develop a hobby that takes your focus away from you and what is distressing in your situation. You can also simply relax, read a book, listen to music, or take some quiet time and de-stress.

When you know how stress and blood sugar are connected, it is up to you to stay on top of stress and keep your sugar levels under control. 


Key Takeaways

  • Stress is part of modern life – you must learn to manage your stress levels and not permit it to negatively affect your health.
  • For people with diabetes, stress can be dangerous – stress and blood sugar have a strong cause and effect connection. 
  • Stress hormones cause the body to release more sugar for quick energy, and this increases sugar levels in the body. 
  • Stress has several positives associated with it since it improves focus and concentration, but constant or chronic stress can be debilitating. Managing diabetes can by itself become a stressor for some people. 
  • Once you manage stress, you can stay on top of your sugar levels – you really don’t need any extra work to manage your diabetes and high blood sugar levels, so keeping stress at bay using any form of relaxation is essential for people with diabetes.


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