Daily life is already filled with demands and decisions—diabetes adds another heavy layer over all of it. But there are healthy ways to handle tough situations, whether it’s a traffic jam, an argument with a loved one, or taking control of your blood glucose numbers.
Managing stress is the close cousin of managing diabetes because stress can have serious effects on your blood sugar. Hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol increase during stressful events, encouraging the liver to produce extra glucose while also increasing insulin resistance.
“When people experience stress, they oftentimes do things that are not ideal for effective glucose management,” says Mark Heyman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in San Diego who specializes in diabetes and also has type 1 diabetes. “People will eat junk foods because they can activate pleasure centers in the brain for temporary relief. People may also engage in avoidance behavior—they won’t be physically active or they avoid diabetes self-care.”
A Mindful Approach
Mindfulness can help you manage stress. With history in Buddhist traditions, mindfulness encourages judgment-free observations of what you are thinking and feeling in the present moment.
Wondering how to begin reaching a more mindful state? Try these ideas:
- Observe your thoughts and emotions from an outsider’s perspective. This pulls reflection into the mix, allowing you to think about what is going on and why thoughts are happening.
- Keep a nonjudgmental attitude about blood sugar monitoring. It’s simply information—how you react to the numbers determines failure or success.
- Add time in your routine to practice mindfulness and improve your mindset. Whether it’s every day or week, choose a distraction-free time that fits in your schedule.
- Seek out a supportive network. You’re not in this alone. Find comfort in sharing with and learning from loved ones, health care providers, diabetes educators, and other people with diabetes.
- Realize it’s normal to feel stressed about managing diabetes. Set goals with your health care professional or diabetes educator, and take it day by day.
- Learn what triggers you. Is it going too long without reaching out to your support group? Or not logging your meals? Define the cause, and use trial and error to discover how you can stop stress in its tracks.
- Take advantage of educational opportunities. Diabetes management tips and strategies can arm you with know-how to maintain a mindful perspective.
Mindfulness training helped a group of U.S. veterans significantly lower their blood glucose and diabetes-related distress. A group of 28 veterans from Pittsburgh participated in the study. After three months, on average, diabetes-related distress decreased by 41 percent and A1C levels fell from 8.3 percent to 7.3 percent.
“We create so much suffering for ourselves when we add judgment and failure into our diabetes management,” says Heather Nielsen, a counselor and wellness coach in Portland, Oregon. But that negative thinking isn’t necessary and isn’t productive to better manage diabetes. Instead, give yourself a break, and think about how far you’ve come and the progress you’ve made.