Coping with your Stress

Stress and diabetes have a complex relationship. It is well known that stress influences your diabetes, in both direct and indirect ways.
Stress is seen as a state in which both physiological and mental changes take place. The mental changes refer to the more alert, but also more nervous or more emotional state that stress can bring us in. Mentally, we are not at our best, when being stressed.
Physiological changes refer to hormones that are released to prepare our body for ‘’danger’’: to make us more alert, and to bring our body in a so-called fight/flight/freeze mode. In this mode we have ‘’extra energy’’ to deal with a dangerous situation, just as our ancient ancestors needed when confronted with wild animals (then you want to fight/flight/freeze J). Nowadays, this physiological stress response is only effective and needed in very specific situations, but our body ‘’turns it on’’ every time we experience/perceive a stressor. Unfortunately, this physiological response also influences our blood sugar. People with diabetes, who monitor their glucose, often report the influence of stress on their blood sugar.
Scientifically, we still have not fully unravelled the relationship between glucose and stress. Part of the Power2DM research therefore is focused on this specific relationship. We want to understand more how stress influences glucose, how long it lasts, and what we can do about it. That is why we have asked you to fill out your stress levels (multiple times per day). We can relate them to your glucose, and learn much more about this relationship.
What we already know, is that there are general tips that are helpful for everyone experiencing stress. And because of the influence of stress on glucose, these tips might be even more important for people with diabetes:

  • when feeling stressed, try to engage in a physical activity. It can be walking, running, jumping, cycling, or any other exercise or sports. Your stressed brain in the fight/flight/freeze mode needs physical input/stimuli to get off the ‘’danger’’ track. Your brain can not ‘’feel stressed’’ and engage in a physical activity at the same time
  • when feeling stressed, try a breathing exercise. In a way, this is also a ‘’physical activity’, giving your brain input to be more relaxed. Our breathing is an important connection between our brain and body, and it works both ways. If you are stressed/anxious/emotions, you will notice your breathing getting more superficial and quicker. And when you are doing a breathing exercise to make your breathing slower, your brain will start being less stressed/anxious/emotional. Breathing exercises can be very ‘mindful’ or even sort of spiritual, but they can also be very short and goal oriented, without the spirituality. Just search online for breathing exercises in your own language, and you will find various versions. Try several, to find out which ones suit you best. Once you have a breathing exercise you like, PRACTICE! If you really want to feel less stressed, doing breathing exercises is one of the best things you can do. The good thing is that you can practice them anytime, everywhere: while doing the dishes, being in the elevator, driving the car, at work etc. Try to make it you second nature to focus on your breathing every now and then.
  • try to make sure that you get enough sleep. Without sufficient sleep our body becomes stressed more easily. Try to look at relaxing and sleeping as an ‘’investment’’ in your health and efficiency. If you are less stressed, you will work more effectively and will be able to get more things done, then when you are staying up late every night, trying to work on all the things on your to-do-list. When stressed, we spend more time on all the things we do. So, try to relax and get to bed early, when you feel your body needs it!