21 March 2017Stress Less with Diabetes

As a diabetes educator, I have observed different stress levels in people dealing with diabetes. Some are mildly concerned, while some are stressed to the core. As one of my wise colleagues tells people in our classes, "Diabetes is not for wimps." Personally managing pre-diabetes myself, I know that it can be stressful. When I allow my thoughts to go to the memories of my father having repeated heart attacks, mini strokes, foot sores resistant to healing, losing his eyesight and then eventually dying of kidney failure, I feel my stress levels rise. Keep in mind, these are potential complications of "poorly managed" diabetes.

Diabetes is a serious, complex disease and it requires a lot of an individual to effectively manage it. You check your glucose levels, usually at least daily, with a hand-held meter. Using a lancet to prick your finger to produce a drop of blood can be stressful for some people. You also go to the lab to get your routine lab work done at least every 6 months. This means remembering to keep track of when these tests are due. If you are new to diabetes and not working in healthcare, you have to learn a second language - medical terminology. You are advised to attend diabetes class and consult with a registered dietitian at least once a year. I see how stressed some people are when they come to see me, wondering if I will take away all their favorite foods. Gee, it can be stressful just getting through the appointment line to make the appointment! Planning out your meals and snacks so your carbs are spread throughout the day is not easy. Oh yes, and when you leave home, you try to remember to take your snacks, glucose meter, medications, maybe an insulin kit, and a bottle of water to stay hydrated. That's a lot to add to an already full life!

As humans, we all get stressed at times, right? Prolonged periods of stress, however, can damage the body. Excessive stress can work against diabetes by increasing glucose levels. Stress hormones increase the release of glucose into the bloodstream and can increase heart rate and blood pressure which causes strain on the heart and blood vessels. In addition, stress can cause negative emotions, impair sound thinking and might cause compulsive eating or poor food choices. So, can you see how stress management is wise for diabetes?

Diabetes Distress (DD) refers to significant negative psychological reactions related to the emotional burdens and worries specific to having to manage a complicated and demanding disease such as diabetes (ref). Ask yourself if you are experiencing excessive stress. Are you having signs and symptoms of ongoing stress such as headaches, fatigue or irritability?

If you live with diabetes yourself, or as a caregiver or family member, create an arsenal of stress-busting strategies. Some ideas to consider:

  • Knowledge is power. Learning facts, tips, advice and tools to manage diabetes may empower you to take charge of it.
  • Find a diabetes educator who can help guide you with your plan.
  • Track your stress level on MyNetDiary Diabetes Tracker. Note your stress level (rate it 1-10) to see how it might be impacting your glucose levels or food choices.
  • Rely on family, friends and your health care team. Just talking about issues can help. Get on the MyNetDiary community forum for online support. Connecting with others living with diabetes often helps. Try the American Diabetes Association's message boards at diabetes.org/messageboards.
  • Take time for yourself. Do enjoyable things that help you stay grounded (walking, reading, gardening, working on puzzles, laughing).

If you live with diabetes, I hope you keep learning and practicing strategies on your journey to making life smoother and more stress-free!

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE
Registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Indialantic, Florida
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Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

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Diabetes/Health

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