Getting to the Bottom of This Link: How are Stress and Diabetes Related?

Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)
Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)

General Physician | 6+ years

Stress and Diabetes
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Stress has become a mainstay in our lives, and so have the health complications associated with it. The most widespread among these complications is Type 2 Diabetes. If your glucose levels have been rising no matter what, it may be time to take a look at your stress levels. So how are stress and diabetes connected? In this article, we talk about how does stress cause diabetes, and how to manage stress effectively in order to lower your blood sugar levels.

Contents:
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    What is Stress?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    What are the Symptoms of Stress?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    Can Stress Cause Diabetes?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    How Does Stress Affect Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels?
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    How to Lower Your Stress Levels?
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    Don’t Have Time To Read?
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    FAQs
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What is Stress?

Stress can be defined as a feeling of strain or tension, be it physical, mental, or emotional. It can be caused by any incident that makes you feel pressured or overwhelmed. The most common causes of stress include work, familial or social relationships, finances, illness and injury.

When you are under stress, your body releases certain hormones (called stress hormones) that prepare you to deal with the stressor (the incident or factor causing stress). These hormones alter the normal functioning of your body in order to make it more alert. This is known as the “fight or flight” response.

Stress can be positive and healthy in the short term as it helps you grow physically, emotionally, or mentally when handled and overcome in the right way. Long-term stress, however, can take a toll on your health and cause problems like Type 2 Diabeteshigh blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, depression, etc.

What are the Symptoms of Stress?

Stress response is your body’s way of responding to a stimulus that may endanger you (physically, mentally, or emotionally). As a result, you may experience a few adverse effects caused by your body’s response to stress. 

Here are some of the clear physical and emotional symptoms of stress. You may:

  • Have an upset stomach (diarrhoea, constipation, nausea etc.)
  • Always feel low on energy
  • Experience frequent headaches and unexplained pain or aches.
  • Experience a rapid heartbeat and/or chest pain
  • Have chills, and feel sick or feverish
  • Lose or gain weight
  • Have trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Be easily frustrated or agitated
  • Feel overwhelmed, and it might become difficult to control your emotions
  • Always feel restless
  • Feel low on self-esteem
  • Feel the tendency to avoid people
  • Always feel nervous
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Can Stress Cause Diabetes?

Stress does not directly cause Type 2 Diabetes, but it can be a significant contributor to the condition. When you are under stress, your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol. These hormones prepare your body to deal with the stressor by: 

  • Increasing your heart and respiratory rates
  • Directing blood flow to your limbs and muscles
  • Increasing the amount of glucose in your blood 

When under stress, your body requires more energy in the form of glucose. It produces more glucose by breaking down proteins (a process known as gluconeogenesis) in your liver, in order to supply your brain with more energy. 

Cortisol also inhibits the secretion of insulin from your pancreas in order to increase blood glucose levels. It also counteracts the effects of insulin, leading to insulin resistance. Thus, a prolonged elevation in blood cortisol levels can lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes.

How Does Stress Affect Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels?

It is difficult to avoid stress in our lives, and having a chronic illness like Type 2 Diabetes may cause stress in and of itself. Though the human body is equipped to deal with short periods of stress, chronic or persistent stress can have several adverse effects, especially in diabetics.

The following are the ways in which stress can affect the health of a diabetic:

Leads to poor glycaemic control

As discussed previously, chronic stress and high cortisol levels can increase your blood glucose levels by breaking down protein in your liver. Cortisol also inversely affects the function of insulin, while also inhibiting the secretion of insulin from pancreatic beta cells. 

This happens because insulin helps your body conserve and store glucose. However, in times of stress, your body requires a steady supply of glucose in your bloodstream and this leads to increased blood glucose levels. 

Thus, chronic stress can lead to complications like retinopathyneuropathy, nephropathyheart disease, etc. in diabetics due to poor blood glucose control.

May lead to poor lifestyle habits

Stress can often lead to a loss of motivation or interest in self-care, which can result in reduced physical activity or missing medication. People who experience chronic stress may also turn to bad coping mechanisms like binge-eating, smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, etc., which can negatively affect your blood glucose levels. 

The aforementioned activities are often considered risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes in healthy individuals. In diabetics, these unhealthy coping mechanisms may result in further deterioration of health, as lifestyle modifications are a crucial factor in the management of diabetes.

How to Lower Your Stress Levels?

Stress, when managed in a healthy way, can improve your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. You can take the following measures in order to manage stress and lower your blood glucose levels:

Exercise

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve blood glucose control. Regular physical activity can lower your stress hormone levels and boost your mood. Therefore, exercising for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week can help you combat stress and diabetes.

Relaxation Techniques

Practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can help you relieve stress. You can also engage in activities such as gardening, reading books, or listening to your favourite music in order to relax.

Reach Out to Family and Friends

Building strong connections with your family, friends, colleagues, etc. can lower stress levels and improve your mood. Relying on people close to you and discussing your health condition can also help you cope better.

Seek Help

If you feel overwhelmed or unable to handle your condition alone, consult your doctor or healthcare team for help. A psychologist can help you work through stress in a healthy way, and your physician or diabetologist can assist you in managing your blood glucose levels.

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Stress can be defined as a condition of physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.
  • Stress can cause symptoms like headaches, body pains, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, loss of sleep, irritability, upset stomach, fluctuations in weight, low self-esteem, etc.
  • When under stress, your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
  • Cortisol causes your liver to break down protein in order to increase your blood glucose levels. It also inhibits the secretion of insulin from your pancreas and counteracts the actions of insulin in your body, leading to insulin resistance.
  • Stress can lead to poor glycaemic control due to decreased insulin secretion, increased insulin sensitivity, and the breakdown of protein into glucose.
  • Stress could also lead to poor lifestyle habits like binge-eating, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and missing medication, which could worsen your condition.
  • Managing stress in a healthy way can prevent its ill effects on your blood sugar levels and overall health. 
  • Practising meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques, building connections with friends and family, and seeking help from medical professionals can help you lower stress levels.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading diabetologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate blood sugar monitoring and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Diabetes Management Program which provides ‎360º care. Let’s treat diabetes together.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, but not directly. Stress and anxiety can lead to elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol can interfere with the functioning of insulin and prevent its release from the pancreas. Cortisol also promotes the breakdown of proteins in your liver, which leads to high blood glucose levels. Long-term stress can also cause overeating, smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol and a lack of exercise, all of which can contribute to the development of Type 2 Diabetes.

Yes, stress can worsen your glycaemic control and lead to complications associated with diabetes. In diabetics, cortisol can lead to increased insulin resistance, and a further reduction in the amount of insulin secreted. Unhealthy coping mechanisms related to stress can also worsen your condition.

Excessive and uncontrolled stress can cause symptoms like:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches and unexplained body pains
  • Upset stomach and nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat and/or chest pain
  • Feeling sick, feverish, or having chills
  • Increased irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Disturbed sleep or insomnia
  • Feeling tired or “low-energy”

Currently, it is not possible to completely reverse Type 2 Diabetes. However, managing stress in a healthy way and lowering your cortisol levels, along with controlling your blood sugar levels, can help you better manage both stress and diabetes. Lowering your stress levels can help in reversing pre-diabetes.

Dr. Pakhi Sharma
Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBS
(General physician, 6+ years)
An expert in obstetrics and medical emergencies, Dr. Pakhi Sharma, an alumni of Sri Devaraj Urs University of Higher Education and Research Centre, is a general physician working at Phablecare. She has 6+ years of work experience spread across gynaecology and obstetrics, family medicine, and medical emergencies at renowned hospitals and clinics.

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