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Can stress cause diabetes?

In this article, we will discuss what stress is, how it affects diabetes, and how to reduce its impact on…(continue reading)

Diabetes can be a difficult disease to manage and there are many factors that can affect blood sugar levels, including stress. Stress can be caused by many different things, such as work, family, money, or health problems and it is an unavoidable part of life but it can be managed in order to minimize its impact on diabetes. In this article, we will discuss what stress is, how it affects diabetes, and how to reduce its impact on your health.

What is stress?

Stress can be defined as a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous among a myriad of other emotions. Examples of different stressors include the inability to sleep, traumatic experiences, anger, hostility, feeling overwhelmed at work, and life events such as breakups or the loss of a loved one. Stress can also affect your body physically as you may have noticed that when you are stressed, your heart rate speeds up and you start to breathe faster. It can also lead to headaches, increased blood pressure, and chest pain. The reason these physical responses happen is due to a primal instinct where your body is preparing to fight or take flight in response to a perceived threat. Stress can not cause diabetes but it is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, meaning if you are stressed you are more likely to develop this chronic condition.

What are the symptoms of being stressed?

When you are stressed, it does not always manifest in the same way each time so it can be difficult to know if you are stressed. There has been a suspected relationship between stress and diabetes for centuries and there have been several articles and studies that back up these theories. Stress also does not have the same symptoms for everyone; however, there are some common symptoms you can use to identify it. Some of the symptoms may be physical while others may be psychological and both can occur at the same time. The most common physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Inability to sleep or lack of sleep
  • Sleeping too much
  • Headaches
  • Tension in your muscles or muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling unwell
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Alertness
  • Decrease in immune activity

There are also other common psychological stress symptoms too and these feelings include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation

These feelings may express themselves in uncharacteristic behavior too, which include:

  • Not communicating with family and friends
  • Stopping eating or excessive eating
  • Excessive alcohol consumption or drug abuse
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Stopping exercise or physical activity

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be a sign that you are stressed. We will detail below several different ways to help manage your stress so it does not affect, or lessens the effect, on your physical and mental well-being.

What are the different types of stress?

All stress is not the same and at the very basic level, there are two kinds: mental stress and physical stress. Mental stress can come from many sources such as work, relationships, or caring for a sick family member. It can also be caused by more personal issues like body image or self-esteem. Physical stress is the type of stress that comes from an injury or illness. It can also be caused by something less severe like not getting enough sleep or having to stand for long periods of time.

There are also three different types of stress according to the American Psychological Association that can be classified based on how long the stress lasts and they are:

Acute stress

Acute stress is the type of stress that is caused by a short-term event like an upcoming deadline, a fight with a friend, or getting stuck in traffic and can actually be beneficial as it can help you to perform better under pressure. The key is to manage stress so it does not become chronic stress.

Episodic acute stress

Episodic acute stress is similar to acute stress but instead of being caused by a single event, it is caused by several events that happen over time and can be more difficult to manage. For example, if you are a firefighter going from one call to the next can be stressful but you are not stressed in between the calls. If not managed properly, it can lead to chronic stress.

Chronic stress

Chronic stress is the type of constant stress that lasts for a long period of time and can be caused by many different things such as job loss, divorce, or caring for a sick family member. It can also be caused by more minor things like chronic pain or sleep problems.

Can stress affect diabetes?

The way that stress affects diabetes is that it can cause your blood sugar levels to go up and can make it harder to manage diabetes. Stress causes the release of stress hormones like cortisol and glucagon which can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels. When you are stressed you can fall into bad lifestyle choices too which make it harder to stick to a healthy lifestyle. You may not make the best choices in terms of eating or exercising which can lead to weight gain and can make it harder to control blood sugar levels while producing excess glucose. Another way that stress can affect diabetes is by making it more difficult to manage emotions. If you are stressed you may have trouble sleeping, which can lead to fatigue and can make it difficult to stick to a diabetes care plan. Also, in times of stress, you are more likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes which is also bad for your physical health.

The type of stress you experience and the type of diabetes you have will also determine your ability to have glycemic control, which is managing your blood glucose level to stay at normal levels. For example, if you are mentally stressed you are far more likely to have a spike in blood sugar if you have type 2 diabetes whereas if you have type 1 diabetes it is less likely to happen. Physical stress such as illness or injury will also typically increase your blood sugar levels whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Physical stress due to exercise though will usually help to lower your blood sugar level. If you have diabetes, it is important to find ways to manage your stress so it does not affect your blood sugar levels or your overall health as uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease, poor blood flow,  and high blood pressure.

How do I know if stress is affecting my diabetes?

There are a few different ways to tell if stress is affecting your diabetes. One way is to monitor your blood sugar levels. If you notice that your blood sugar levels are rising when you are under stress or not responding well to your normal treatment plan, it may be due to stress. Another way to tell if stress is affecting your diabetes is by paying attention to your mood. If you find yourself feeling more anxious, irritable, or depressed when you are under stress, it may be affecting your emotional health and diabetes as anxiety and depression are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Finally, if you notice that you are not able to stick to your normal diabetes care plan when you are under stress, it may be causing problems with your diabetes management.

What are the best ways to reduce stress levels?

There are a few different ways that you can reduce your stress levels. One way is to identify the things that are causing you stress and try to find ways to eliminate or minimize them. Another way is to find healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stress in your life. Some examples of healthy coping mechanisms include exercise, journaling, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. Finally, it is important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally which means eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and making time for things that you enjoy.

By following these tips, you can help to reduce your stress levels and improve your overall health. If you find that your stress levels are affecting your diabetes, please speak with your doctor or health care provider for medical advice on how to better manage your diabetes.

Summary

Stress can have a significant impact on diabetes. It can cause changes in blood sugar levels, make it difficult to manage emotions, and can interfere with diabetes care plans. There are a few different ways to reduce stress levels including identifying the things that cause you stress, finding healthy coping mechanisms, and taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally. If you find that your stress is affecting your diabetes, it is important to speak with your doctor or health care provider so they can help you manage both your stress, mental health, and diabetes for a better quality of life.

References and sources:

Discovery Medicine

Healthline

MedicalNewsToday

Cleveland Clinic 

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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