Reduce Stress to Help Your Diabetes

Written by Bonnie Sanders Polin, PhD

Stress affects people with diabetes, including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes  and prediabetes (well, of course, it affects people without diabetes, too, but we'll just stick to the people with diabetes). And managing stress isn't as easy as just telling yourself to relax and get through your to-do list.  When you have diabetes, stress can affect your blood glucose level, so managing stress when you have diabetes is just another way to work on managing your blood glucose level.

Realistically, you'll probably never be able to entirely get rid of stress, so it's good to learn how to manage the stress in your life. 

How Stress Affects People with Diabetes

In people with diabetes, stress can alter the blood glucose levels in two ways.

First, people under stress may not take care of themselves. They may eat more and exercise less. They may forget or feel they do not have time to check blood glucose levels or plan for healthy meals.

Second, stress can change blood glucose levels directly. Scientists have studied the effects of stress on glucose levels in both animals and people. Diabetic mice have elevated glucose levels when under physical or mental stress.

The effects in people with type 1 diabetes indicate that glucose levels may go up as they do in the majority of people, but they can also go down in some. In type 2 diabetes, stress often raises blood glucose levels.

Stress Management Tips:  Relaxation to Handle Stress

Relaxation is not a substitute for exercise; it is an adjunct which will allow you to feel better all day long.

In fact, relaxation includes brief or quick relaxation, a stress walk, and then the longer relaxation techniques.  It also includes deep breathing. Try the ones that appeal to you. You won't be unhappy.

The best thing about learning to relax is that you can take these techniques with you wherever you go. Some are quick and some take a bit more time. Let's look at some of these.

The Stress Walk

The Stress Walk is just what it says. If things are getting to you at work, get up and walk around the office a few times, walk the steps or walk around to another part of the workplace and back a few times.

At home, walk your living room or home. Even a short walk can give you a needed time out, releasing muscle tension and allowing more oxygen to enter your body and brain. This is amazingly effective.

You have no idea how often I get up and walk to other rooms or pick up clothes, make a bed, etc. just to relieve the tension of sitting at the computer.

Quick Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
In the 1920s, Dr. Edmund Jacobson developed a system of relaxation he called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It involves tensing and totally relaxing specific muscle groups. It is a structured relaxation somewhat like what we described above, but it has rules you will want to learn.

You may need a teacher to help you get this. It takes some training.  Here we share the first lesson of three with you.

To do this, you will need to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. It is preferable to do this with your eyes closed.

When you tense a muscle, hold the tension for 5 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds before you go on to the next tensing movement.

After you are done, breathe in deeply and stretch. Open your eyes and feel great.

Autogenic Training
In the 1930s, Johannes Schultz and Wolfgang Luthe developed Autogenic Training. It uses the healing powers of the brain and the power of suggestion. It involves repeating certain mental directives and concentrating on them until the body responds. An example of this might be "My arms are heavy and warm."

This is a technique that teaches your body to respond to certain commands. Using these commands you can tell you body to lower blood pressure, control breathing and even body temperature.

It consists of 6 standard exercises that make the body feel warm, heavy, and relaxed. For each exercise you get into a simple posture (sitting in a chair or reclining), concentrate without any goals, and then use visual imagination and verbal clues to relax your body in some specific way.

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The goal is to achieve deep relaxation and reduce stress.

After you learn the process you can use it whenever you need it. This is not a quick teach. It takes 4 to 6 months to master all 6 exercises.

You learn each exercise by reading about it or watching a teacher and then practicing it for a few minutes several times a day. It does, however, take training and practice to gain the benefits of the program.

Experts believe that this is a process that is similar to self-hypnosis and biofeedback, both of which we used in our practices at times.

Many people continue to use all 3 techniques. It is safe for most people, but you do need a complete physical before your begin this process.

People with diabetes and heart disease should practice it only under the care of a physician. It needs to be stopped if you have any adverse effects from doing the exercises.

For some people, for example, there is drop or increase in blood pressure that may cause problems so, as we said only with a medical person in charge. Also children under 5 years of age and people with severe mental illness are advised not to use this technique.

Manage Stress to Help Manage Diabetes

These relaxation techniques are ways to limit stress and the effects of stress in your life.  Since stress affects blood glucose levels, people with diabetes should learn how to manage stress in easy, effective ways.

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