By Martha Funnell, MS, RN, CDE
You may have heard people in politics or other areas of public life described as being like Teflon. No matter what they do, nothing bad ever seems to stick to them. When it comes to your health, being Teflon is a good thing.
IT’S NOT THE STRESSOR, IT’S THE RESPONSE
Many people think of stress as causing health problems. But results from part of a large study called “Midlife in the United States“ have shown that just being stressed does not cause problems. It’s the response that people have to stressors that’s at issue. And that response can affect your health 10 years into the future, regardless of your health today. The study found that people who got upset by daily stressors and continued to dwell on them after they were over were more likely to suffer from chronic health problems—especially pain and heart disease—10 years later.
VELCRO OR TEFLON?
Researchers in this study describe some people as Teflon and some as Velcro. When a stressful event happens to Velcro types, they get upset and stay upset. With Teflons, the stressors slide right off; they are able to let go of a problem or upsetting situation.
All you have to do is stand in a long line to see people react like Teflon and Velcro. Everyone is in the same line: Some people find it upsetting, while others don’t. The Velcro person is still fuming even after reaching the front of the line, while the Teflon person can let it go more easily. So even though you don’t always have a choice about standing in a long line, you do have a choice about how you react.
FIND YOUR INNER TEFLON
People who react more like Teflon are better able to balance the negative and positive aspects of their lives. One way to find that balance is to do more of the things you enjoy and fewer of those things that drain your energy.
Another idea is to reframe your view or perception of the stress. Try asking yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen if I have to stand in this long line? What is the best thing that can happen if I get upset about it?”
STRESS AND DIABETES
When you are stressed, your body releases hormones to help you deal with the stress. They’re the flight-or-fight hormones. These same hormones raise blood glucose levels. Look at your blood glucose readings when you are stressed. Do you see numbers higher than usual? Your high levels may be caused by these hormones.
Some people eat more or sleep more when they feel stressed. Eating more can, in turn, lead to higher blood glucose readings. Other people may eat less or toss and turn at night.
Some people find it hard to exercise when they are feeling stressed out, and others find that exercise helps burn up some of the negative energy. Exercise is also a way to cope with stress. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones that counter-act the effects of the stress hormones. Many people find taking a brisk walk or going to the gym after work helps them leave their stress behind.
7 IDEAS FOR FINDING YOUR INNER TEFLON
1 Find the support you need.
Find a good listener, or join a support group. Pray, meditate or practice your religion.
2 Know your limits.
Don’t try to do more than you can. Learn to say no to people or events that will raise your stress level. You don’t have to do it all. Do fewer things and do them better.
3 Plan your day and set goals you can meet.
Make time to take care of yourself and your health. Take breaks during stressful times or events. Make it a point to relax, take a nap or watch a funny movie.
4 Take a stress management class or practice relaxation exercises.
Community and senior centers, the library or the Internet are good resources.
5 Avoid stressful situations when possible.
If you can’t, plan ahead how you will handle the stress.
6 Express your feelings.
It is OK to cry when you’re sad or upset, but try to laugh every day.
7 Use your energy in a positive way.
Hobbies, things you enjoy, laughing or spending time with upbeat people can help you handle your stress.
When you have diabetes, you may see the effect of the stress right away. The way you handle stress can affect your blood glucose. If stress is causing you serious anxiety or is getting in the way of you enjoying your life, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a behavioral health professional for help. Although stress is a fact of life for most of us, you can learn to better handle the stress you experience and live a longer, happier, healthier life.