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7 ways to help cope with stress when you have diabetes

22 March 2019

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Stress-triggers can be all around us, from work and home life to finances and health needs. Experiencing stress when you have diabetes can be particularly challenging as it can have a knock on effect on how you manage your condition.

Stress can affect diabetes in different ways. Stress hormones tell the liver to release more glucose into the blood (it’s known as the ‘fight or flight’ response), increase insulin resistance and raise glucose levels. Some people find the opposite happens and their glucose levels dive when they are stressed. Others may find that it also impacts on eating habits, medicine planning and overall attempts at staying healthy.

Whatever the effects, it’s important to find ways to cope that work for you. Here are seven ways to help you tackle stress when you have diabetes.

Understand the impact of stress on your blood glucose levels

Stress can affect blood glucose levels in different ways. Pay closer attention to the relationship between the two to help you stay on top of your diabetes management during stressful times.

  • To find out how stress is affecting your glucose levels, try keeping a stress diary and rating how you stressed you’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. Now record your glucose level next to this. After a couple of weeks, see if you can spot a pattern i.e. high stress levels accompanied by high or low blood glucose levels.
  • Speak to your diabetes team about adjusting your medication if you think stress is affecting your blood glucose.

Try a relaxation technique

We’ve all experienced negative thoughts that can take over our minds and cloud our thinking. This is where mindfulness and meditation can help. Mindfulness is simply being aware of everything around and inside you. The idea is that by concentrating on the present and turning your attention to your feelings, emotions and surroundings, you can become more aware of them. Being aware of negative beliefs is the first step towards understanding and gaining control over them.

Meditation works on similar principles and is the ancient art of calming the mind to achieve inner tranquillity. It can involve visualising calming images, mantras and even movement to help focus the mind on being in the moment.

By practicing regularly, you can learn to spot the patterns of negative thoughts and realise that they are just ideas and need not take over your whole life. You can practice mindfulness in simple ways such as focusing on the taste of food you’re eating, the sensation in your feet as you walk or simply observing your own thoughts.

Get moving

Exercise is good not just for your body but also your mind. A workout boosts feelings of wellbeing by producing feel-good endorphins. One study found that physical activity can significantly improve high levels of anxiety and depression. Researchers found exercises that were rhythmic, aerobic, involved large muscle groups and those that varied in intensity to be particularly effective1. They recommend walking, jogging, swimming or cycling for 15 to 30 minute sessions three times a week for ten weeks or longer as a way to reduce anxiety or depression.

A practical way to incorporate exercise into your life is to set realistic health goals to help you deal with the stress rather than a vague desire.

Realistic: ‘I will walk for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 6:00 pm’

Vague: ‘I need to exercise more to cope with the stress’.

But if like so many people you struggle to find the time, don’t forget that even daily activities such as mopping the house, washing the windows or pushing the lawn mower count as moderate aerobic activities.

Remember to speak with your Healthcare Professional before undertaking changes to your diet or exercise routine

Sign up for therapy

‘If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your current situation, it might be time to look for external help such as a talking therapy’

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your current situation, it might be time to look for external help such as a talking therapy. There are many types of talking therapies where you can see a trained therapist to work through your issues and find positive ways to deal with your challenges. Some popular talking therapies include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling. Although they differ in their methods, both aim to give you a better understanding of your thoughts and emotions and help you find the best way to overcome challenging situations. You can get more out of your session if you can work with your therapist to find ways to:

  • Remove or minimise the source of stress
  • Change your response to it
  • Change the long term effects that stress has on you

Discover a new hobby

Some people find that a new leisure activity can help them cope with trying times. A new hobby can help you relax by taking your mind off your current situation. You’ll also learn a new skill or even help someone else. Creative hobbies such as arts or crafts can help you express yourself visually when it’s hard to put your feelings into words.

Volunteering or community work is another way to build up your resilience and make a difference to somebody else’s life. Helping someone who is facing a worse situation can also help you see your own problems from a different point of view.

Talk about it

Sometimes just sharing your feelings with loved ones or friends can help relieve some of the strain. Talking about your situation with someone you know and trust can also help you find practical solutions. If you don’t feel like you can open up to anyone in your life, visiting an online forum where other people are also in the same situation as you can really help. Posting an anonymous question or comment is not as daunting as having a face-to-face chat and you can get to hear suggestions and helpful ideas from people who are in the same boat as you.

Find your coping method

How you react to pressure also depends on your own coping style. This is your unique way of responding to the stressful triggers in your life. If you think you are struggling, it might be time to explore a different coping method. There are two common ways of approaching stress.

  • Problem-solving: in this approach, you try and find productive ways of solving the problem you are facing and thereby reduce your stress levels.
  • Acceptance: If the problem is beyond your control and there is not much you can do to influence the outcome, it may be time to accept the situation and not see it as a stress-trigger.

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The views expressed in the Accu-Chek blog are not necessarily those of Roche Diabetes Care Limited or our publishers. The content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely – you must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content. Although we make reasonable efforts to ensure that the content is up to date, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content is accurate, complete or up-to-date.