What role does stress play in affecting your blood glucose level?
Stress is the physical and mental reaction of the body when it senses danger. Conditions that seem uncontrollable or that require emotional and behavioral changes are usually perceived by the body to be dangerous. These threats cause you to feel stress and can cause blood glucose levels to increase. Stress can trigger strong and negative feelings which get in the way of logical thinking, and can also contribute to poor eating. In short, stress can really damage your health, especially your diabetes.
Most people experience some stress as part of their everyday lives. Over time, this chronic stress can negatively impact other bodily systems and may lead to decreased immune response, slowed digestion and elevated blood pressure.
To help you understand how chronic stress can cause damage, imagine holding a glass of water. You might think, “That is easy. It weighs only a few ounces.” Yet, the absolute weight of the water doesn’t matter. What matters is the amount of time for which you hold the glass. For example, if you hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If you hold it for an hour, your arm will ache. If you hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. The glass of water weighs the same, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes.
Stress is the same way. Problems, even small ones, are a lot like that glass of water. They can become unbearable unless you put them down for a while and rest. When you rest, you refresh yourself, making it easier for yourself to carry on with the burden. Learning how to put down your “glass” of stress is an important skill to learn for your diabetes care. Chronic stress and anxiety can cause blood glucose to rise, which can trigger eating and zap motivation, making exercise and eating healthy feel like a chore.
Try this tip before your next meal to see if it helps you de-stress.
Give your full attention to the food that is in front of you by taking three deep breaths.
- For the first breath, inhale the smells. Exhale any tension or stress.
- For the second breath, inhale, knowing that the feeling of hunger and stress will pass. Exhale your worries and physically smile. It is good to remember these feelings of stress are only temporary.
- For the third breath, inhale the present moment. Exhale thoughts of tasks, projects and deadlines. Mentally imagine putting the ‘glass’ down.
- Tell yourself, “I can choose to relax and enjoy eating.”
Now, take a bite. Let the flavors rest on you tongue as you slowly chew the food. Notice everything and anything you can about the food in your mouth. If the bite is enjoyable, savor the flavor and let yourself fully take in the experience. If the flavor is lacking, ask yourself what you can do to make your eating experience more enjoyable. Take the time to notice, and add seasoning or re-heat your food if you need to. This is an example of mindful eating, which is one way to reduce stress.
Many people with diabetes might first try this exercise with a ‘treat’ such as a small piece of chocolate, raisin or a cracker. Only practice mindful eating when you are not too hungry, since it is hard to notice the taste and flavors of food if your hunger is so great that it is uncomfortable. If you are concerned that eating in this way might lead to overeating or weight gain, there’s no need to worry. A recent article published in February 2013 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effectiveness of eating attentively. The research review concluded that this type of eating “may aid in weight loss and maintenance without the need for conscious calorie counting.”