How are Diabetes and Stress linked?
Metabolic Health

The Relation Between Stress And Diabetes

Is there any parameter in life that is not affected by stress in today’s day and age? Children as young as middle schoolers feel the stress and pressure of school work and academics. This only increases as people grow older and have to tackle much more and take care of their responsibilities. Stress is directly linked to loss of appetite, sleeplessness, fluctuations in hormones and vitamin levels, mood swings, anxiety-related issues, and even lifestyle disorders like hypertension, heart disease, and also diabetes. 

One cannot discount the effect of stress on our lives. A major part of how one deals with stress and exercises their coping mechanisms influence the onset of certain chronic illnesses. This is why having coping mechanisms in place and healthy methods of dealing with stress would be beneficial not only in the immediate situation but also long term. 

The Link between Diabetes & Stress

To understand the link between these two parameters and understand can stress cause diabetes, it would first be important to understand what these are in the broader context. 

Stress is the body’s response to pressure. It is the inability/difficulty of the person to be able to cope with the challenges of life. Several factors can be attributed as stressors for various individuals as it is a subjective variable:

  • Exams
  • Health conditions
  • Financial troubles
  • A big life-altering event or change
  • Fights with loved ones
  • Work pressure, etc

Each time you are stressed, you might experience certain physiological symptoms like – rapid heartbeat, palpitations, increased blood pressure, trouble breathing, etc. Chronic stress or inability to deal with the consequences of stress would lead to frequently experiencing these symptoms which might turn into something bigger. 

Diabetes is a condition wherein your body is not producing enough insulin which leads to a rise in the sugar levels in the blood. How this works is that your pancreas is supposed to produce a hormone called insulin – the primary function of which is to bind to the sugar/glucose molecules in the bloodstream and break them down. Since there is a lack of insulin in the body, the glucose molecules in the blood increase leading to higher blood sugar levels. This is called diabetes. 

The onset of diabetes can happen at different ages in different people depending on the type that they are diagnosed with. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs at an early age and is generally autoimmune or genetically linked. The type of diabetes that may make you question ‘does stress cause diabetes?’ would be Type 2 Diabetes or T2D. This condition occurs during middle age and can be a result of 

  • Unhealthy eating
  • Unhealthy sleeping
  • Unhealthy lifestyle patterns. 

Stress is also a big factor that doctors check for during the onset of this condition in middle age. In many T2D diagnosis, it can be true that stress causes diabetes, or at least plays a big role in the occurrence of the symptoms. 

How does Stress affect Diabetes and Blood Sugar?

If you are living with diabetes, you know the role that stress can play in the cause and consequence of this condition. There is a direct link between higher levels of stress and a rise in blood sugar levels. You can test this yourself. If you know that you are going to encounter a potentially stressful situation, you can check your blood sugar levels before the incident and once after the incident has subsided or come under control. Most often than not, you will notice a spike in the levels, even if you have not eaten anything in that duration. So, if stress can lead to such consequences, the question – can stress cause diabetes – may not be too far off the mark.

Stress can lead to other conditions affecting the mental health of a person like depression and anxiety. When you are dealing with such layered problems, it becomes tough to take care of yourself leading to a pattern of unhealthy behaviors. This, in turn, may cause diabetes. 

1. Stress affects Lifestyle Factors

To understand this better, let us look at it this way – suppose you are stressed about your job and are finding it tough to deal with the everyday demands of work. You will put in more hours and sleepless nights forgoing the need to eat, sleep, or even drink water on time. These unhealthy lifestyle habits might snowball into others –

  • Smoking to cope with stress
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Sleeplessness
  • Poor diet or stress eating

Does stress cause diabetes would be true in cases like these, if not directly, but indirectly. 

2. Stress Affects Hormones

Stress and the effects of stress can directly play a role in hormonal fluctuations and can be detrimental in disrupting the effective functioning of insulin in the body. Higher levels of stress can activate the sympathetic nervous system and certain other pathways in the brain. This leads to the greater secretion of cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone. Cortisol affects the stimulation of glucose in the body and raises blood sugar levels. 

3. Stress Affects the Immune System

You must already know that chronic and long-term stress has a direct impact on the immune system as it lowers the immunity and the body’s resistance to dealing with infections. When the immunity is lower, it becomes easy for the healthy cells in the body (pancreas) to be attacked by unhealthy cells leading to conditions like diabetes. Therefore, can stress cause diabetes? would be answered here!

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How can I tell if Stress is affecting my blood sugar levels?

Luckily, people with diabetes are already aware of how they can measure their blood sugar levels and stay on top of the effective management of their conditions. There are certain times when doctors guide their patients to be even more vigilant of their blood sugar levels – sick days and stressful times. In these times, particularly, make sure that you are keeping an active check of your sugars – even at random times in the day. When you are stressed, note the levels pre and post the stressful incident (if possible) or keep a continuous check on them. In case you notice that your glucose levels are higher on stressful days or situations like – deadlines, presentations, functions, etc. you can visit your doctor to understand how to manage the insulin quantities better. 

Reducing Stress Levels

The most effective way of dealing with the effects of stress would not be better insulin management but would be better stress management. For different people, different things work, so you can figure out what helps you best. There are several ways and stress management techniques can you can follow:

  1. Regular exercise – helps in the production of endorphins that counter the effects of cortisol
  2. Meditation and yoga – help focus on breathing which makes it easier to not experience physiological symptoms of stress.
  3. Distractions – instead of focussing on stressors and overthinking, distract yourself so you don’t spiral
  4. Planning – A consistent routine will allow maximum productivity which would leave less room for procrastination and stress. 
  5. Relaxation techniques – When you are stressed, your body becomes rigid. Notice the parts of your body that get tight – like hands, feet, neck, shoulders, etc and work towards relaxing them by consciously tightening and loosening them.
  6. Therapy – If you believe that your coping techniques are not working the way you want them to, you can always speak to a professional about it to learn about your patterns and more effective stress management methods.

Bottomline

Stress causes diabetes may not be an untrue statement in today’s times. It is important, therefore, to be able to effectively regulate the levels of stress you are experiencing to not make your blood sugar levels become worse and out of control. Keep checking your sugar levels to make sure they are in the normal range to avoid further complications. Adopt effective stress management techniques in your daily routine.

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