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Having type 2 diabetes can take more than just your blood sugar for a ride. The daily stress of managing a chronic condition like diabetes can take an emotional toll as well. You’re faced with learning new ways of eating, mastering the monitoring of your blood sugar and changing your schedule to accommodate exercise. And you may be dealing with a complication from diabetes — or worried about developing one.
But controlling stress goes hand in hand with controlling blood sugar — the hormones your body releases when stressed actually raise your blood sugar levels. Plus, finding positive ways to handle your stress will enable you to make the lifestyle changes that are critical to living well with your condition. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to cancel exercise plans or sacrifice good eating habits, or even forget to take your meds.
Stress and Eating
It’s no secret that many of us turn to food when stressed out — particularly foods high in carbs, fat and sugar. These foods would do a number on anyone’s blood sugar, let alone someone whose blood sugar response is impaired. And here you are, trying to control your food and your stress.
Sidestep this emotional eating trap by keeping a food and emotions journal, suggests Peggy Doyle, RD, LD, a certified diabetes educator and outpatient dietitian at Cleveland Clinic’s Fairview Hospital Wellness Center. When you eat, be it at meal time or “just because,” write down what you munch on and how you’re feeling at the time. You’ll learn to identify your emotional triggers and more consciously manage what and why you choose to eat.
Work It Out
One of the top things you can do to control both your stress and blood sugar levels is to get moving. Exercise helps lower your blood sugar and reduce stress — not only right after you exercise but in the long-term as well. So if you’re having a rough day, don’t just sit there — get up and take a walk! It will clear your mind as well as your system. Or try doing yoga — this mind-body exercise is excellent at lowering stress levels.
Take a Break From Yourself
One of the keys, says Doyle, to breaking the stress cycle (getting stressed because you’re stressed) is to learn to step out of yourself, so to speak. Activities that foster deep relaxation, such as meditation, guided imagery or deep breathing, help keep you on an even emotional keel. As you pursue new interests, you will likely find that you start seeing results in both your stress level and blood sugar readings — and that can be a powerful motivator for continued change.
Diabetes and Depression
For some people, diabetes care means more than dealing with stress — it means combating depression as well. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop depression — and women with diabetes are more likely to develop depression than both men with diabetes and women without diabetes.
If you think you're experiencing depression — even if you’re not sure — tell your doctor right away. Not only is depression a serious condition that needs its own treatment, but depression can make good diabetes self-care that much more difficult.
Try This! Craving carbs when stress hits? Try going for a 10-minute walk or doing five minutes of deep breathing instead. Both boost your mood without unbalancing your blood sugar. —Stacia Jesner