The most effective treatment of diabetes must include the treatment of stress. Stress can be both physical (over-exertion, extreme temperatures, etc. – anything that overtaxes the body) and psychological (perceived or actual threats to the person, emotional events, etc.). Regardless of the source, stress has not received sufficient attention in its impact on diabetes. We hear much more about diet and exercise, monitoring glucose levels, and the medically appropriate use of insulin.
Research, as well as anecdotal evidence from diabetics, implicates stress as a major contributor to elevated glucose levels. This can be very frustrating (and increase psychological stress) for an individual following recommended medical advice for diet, exercise, and treatment. The significant role of stress requires a broader approach to glucose control.
Most diabetics are more aware of physical than psychological stress. Physical medicine providers and the research literature advocate checking glucose levels before and after significant physical exertion. In fact, moderate exercise can actually help to lower glucose levels as glucose is the fuel for the muscles, including the heart and brain. Diabetics should track how blood sugar levels respond to physical exercise, as well as check with their physician before increasing their physical activity.
We are taught about the fight or flight response that the human body experiences when confronted with something stressful. This autonomic response to perceived or real threats involves releasing adrenaline and other substances that prepare the person for attack or retreat. Psychological stress produces the same fight or flight response as physical stress at a physiological level, including the release of glucose to feed the body in preparation for action.
We all realize that this response developed in times long past – escaping a saber-tooth tiger or other real dangers that no longer exist today in society. However, our somewhat antiquated fight or flight response has not yet adjusted to the new environments we live in, since our system may be triggered by events that are not really life threatening. As a result, our bodies may overreact to psychological stress.
The important conclusion is that psychological stress not be ignored as a source of significant impact on diabetes. A person with diabetes should seek ways to relax, such as using meditation, hypnosis or progressive relaxation tapes, or engage in any other activities that provide relaxation to the individual.
Ways to Manage Stress include:
- Progressive relaxation
- Flying a kite
- Reading a book
- Listening to music
- Getting together with a friend
- Going to a movie
- Taking a warm bath