Stress isn’t fun, but it's not all bad. This physiological response releases hormones that change how the body functions. It keeps you alive in survival situations and motivates you to do your best. However, the stress response was meant to last in short bursts. Chronic stress keeps the body in fight-or-flight mode, where stress hormones can negatively impact your health.
For diabetics, stress, chronic or not, can aggravate skin conditions and cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Daily stress management can help you regulate your blood sugar, skin health, and keep you calm when the pressure rises. Everyone is different, so it might take time to find the routines and activities that help your stress stay under control.
Stress comes in different forms, from psychological to physical. For example, trouble stabilizing your blood sugar can trigger a stress response, further complicating your diabetes management. It’s a good idea to practice stress management before you find yourself in an overwhelmingly stressful situation.
1. Daily Meditation
Stress causes the body to release more glucose as a means of energy to “escape” danger. At the same time, cortisol and other stress hormones change insulin sensitivity in the muscles and fatty tissues. Consequently, the extra glucose stays readily available in the bloodstream while insulin levels decrease. It can take several hours after a stressful event for blood sugar levels to stabilize.
A growing interest in meditation’s benefits has led to numerous studies on its effects. Mindfulness meditation, one of the most popular meditative methods, has been shown to reduce anxiety levels (and stress hormones) outside of and during stressful situations.
Meditation is easy to add to your daily routine. Five to ten minutes of meditation in the morning or before bed can bring your heart rate down and mentally prepare you for the day’s challenges.
If you’ve never meditated before, try a free (though some include more content with a subscription) guided meditation app like:
- The Mindfulness App
- Insight Timer
- Smiling Mind
- Stop, Breathe, Think
- UCLA Mindful
- 10% Happier
You can also try meditation instruction on YouTube, or sign-up for a class to help you through the first few meditation sessions. Over time, a consistent meditative practice can trigger the body’s relaxation response (lowered blood pressure and heart rate) as soon as you start the meditative practice.
1. Stay Hydrated (Inside and Out)
Stress is harder to handle when the body isn’t at its best. Proper hydration is a simple controllable factor in daily self-care. Most adults need 8 to 13 glasses of water per day, depending on the weather and activity level.
Keep yourself hydrated on the outside, too. Diabetics are more prone to dry, itchy, flaky skin. Stress also increases general inflammation, which for diabetics, can trigger existing or new skin conditions. Psoriasis, eczema, and skin allergies may flare under stress. Stress can also dampen the immune system, interfering with the skin’s ability to heal or fight off infection.
A daily moisturizer with anti-fungal properties can help prevent skin irritation and infections. Try using a night moisturizer that promotes healing to keep the skin healthy and hydrated.
Regular exercise is good for your heart, lungs, and muscles. Exercise provides a physical outlet to rid your body of the tension caused by stress. It also triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins.
Exercise doesn’t have to be high impact to be beneficial. Activities like yoga combine the benefits of physical exercise and meditation, taking on stress from two angles. A daily walk or pilates session can keep your body fit, blood sugar under control, and mind invigorated, too.
3. Reduce Sugar and Caffeine Intake
Look at it this way—stress causes inflammation. Sugar increases inflammation. Diabetes causes a chronic inflammatory response. Sugar combined with stress and diabetes is an inflammatory disaster waiting to happen. Most diabetics are usually hyper-aware of their sugar intake anyway, but when stress is added to the mix, be extra vigilant about your sugar intake.
Keep close tabs on your caffeine intake when stress levels start to rise. This legal stimulant can increase agitation, irritability, and interfere with sleep, which only magnifies stress.
4. Plan Your Meals in Advance
A well-balanced diet gives your skin, eyes, lungs and the rest of the body the nutrients it needs to function at its best. Meal planning reduces the stress of arriving at home with hungry mouths to feed (including yours) and nothing ready to go. It might take time to get used to meal planning, but it can reduce your stress in the long run and help you stick to a healthier diet.
5. Spend Time in Nature
Whether you take a walk in a designated “green” space or the local walking trail, time outside reduces stress. Time in nature often gives you a chance to manage stress on two levels. One—you’re outside, helping the mind slow down and relax. Two—chances are you’re walking and moving while you’re outside, providing extra exercise.
A Final Note
Stress management is part of controlling blood sugar levels. It might take time to determine the methods, routines, and relaxation techniques that work for you. Give a few different methods a try until you find activities and practices that help keep stress from running your life.