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Diabetes: Why Stress Matters

Too much stress, no matter what causes it, may make it harder to manage diabetes. All that comes with diabetes can bring stress all on its own. COVID-19 may add more pressure. You might fear for your job safety or your health. What's more, you might feel overwhelmed by the news or lonely while you stay away from friends. Keeping all that stress in check may help you control your diabetes better.

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How Stress Affects Your Blood Sugar

During stressful situations, your insulin levels drop and stress hormone levels go up. That makes it harder for your insulin to work the way it should. All of this may raise your blood sugar. If you reach for comfort foods or alcohol to deal with stress, that can make things worse.

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Healthy Habits May Help Blood Sugar

When you make a point to make healthy choices during stressful times, it may help you lower your stress, feel better, and control your blood sugar. If you start to track how stressed or relaxed you feel when you test your blood sugar, you may notice that certain triggers cause your numbers to go up. That way, you can plan to de-stress at those times.

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Follow a Routine

A set schedule adds structure to your day and may help you feel calmer, even in stressful, uncertain times. With fewer decisions to make, you’ll be less likely to oversleep, skip meals, forget your medicine, or stay up too late. It may comfort you to know when you’ll do your daily activities. That comfort can help you get enough rest and choose healthy foods.

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Take Breaks From the News

Type 2 diabetes may raise your chances of serious illness if you get COVID-19, so you want to stay informed. You can get news updates anytime. But too much time focused on news during the pandemic may stress you out. That can affect your blood sugar.

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Eat Healthy Foods

Since stress may throw off your blood sugar levels, try to do everything that you can to keep your numbers on target. Don’t pamper yourself with junk food to deal with the stress of the pandemic. Instead, follow your usual healthy eating plan, including balanced meals and healthy portion sizes.

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Avoid Unhealthy Temptations

Some people reach for vices like cigarettes or alcohol in high-stress situations, but it’s wise to avoid them. When you smoke, the nicotine raises your blood sugar and makes it harder to control. Alcohol can lower your blood sugar levels. There’s a risk that your levels could go too low, especially if you don’t eat first or if you exercise afterward. If your doctor says it's OK to drink, keep it to one beverage when you do.

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Exercise Every Day

Being active helps you ease stress and boost your mood. It can also lower your blood sugar and your blood pressure. You might sleep better, too. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise each day, and try to make it fun. Walk with a friend, or call them while you walk.

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Get Enough Good Sleep

Research shows that when you don’t rest enough, changes in your hormone levels make it harder for your body to control your blood sugar. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and aim for 7 to 8 hours of good sleep each night. That means you get disturbed once or less through the night, and fall back asleep quickly when you wake during the night. Unwind the hour before bed in dim light: Shower, read, or enjoy music.

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Reach Out to Your Social Circle

Talk to friends or family about your feelings. The connection to people who care about you may help you feel more relaxed. Some people may suggest ideas to help you deal with what stresses you. Talk to loved ones about lighter topics, too: When you laugh together, it helps to ease stress, which helps your blood sugar.

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Be Mindful

You may feel more relaxed if you breathe deeply, meditate, or practice mindful behaviors that help you relax, like yoga. One study found that people with type 2 diabetes who practiced yoga twice a week for 12 weeks lowered their blood sugar and stress levels more than people who walked twice weekly for the same amount of time. And research shows that mindfulness-based stress relief helps people with diabetes lower their blood sugar.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 07/20/2020 Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 20, 2020

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SOURCES:

American Diabetes Association: “Understanding Blood Sugar and Control.”

CDC: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Coping with stress,” “People of Any Age with Underlying Medical Conditions,” “Taking Care of Your Emotional Health,” “Smoking and Diabetes,” "Coping With Stress," "Physical Activity Basics."

Cleveland Clinic: “Diabetes: Stress & Depression.”

UCSF Medical Center: “Blood Sugar & Stress,” “Diabetes & Alcohol.”

NHS Foundation Trust West Suffolk: “Patient Information: Diabetes and Stress.”

Mental Health America: “Diabetes and Mental Health.”

Piedmont Healthcare: “Why Routines Are Good for Your Health.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Managing Diabetes,” “Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity.”

Mayo Clinic: “Diabetes Management: How Lifestyle, Daily Routine Affect Blood Sugar.”

National Sleep Foundation: “Sleep Longer To Lower Blood Glucose Levels.”

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks.”

Complementary Therapies in Medicine: “Feasibility of yoga as a complementary therapy for patients with type 2 diabetes: the Healthy Active and in Control (HA1C) study.”

Journal of Diabetes Research: “The Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Emotional Wellbeing and Glycemic Control of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.”

Sleep.org: "How is Sleep Quantity Different than Sleep Quality?"

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 20, 2020

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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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