by Clara Schneider MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN |
According to The American Institute of Stress, research from both the experimental and clinical domains confirm that stress is all about the sense of having little or no control. It is interesting to find that stress is not all bad. In fact, stress can increase productivity up to a point at which fatigue, exhaustion, and ill health will occur rapidly. The point at which this happens is different for everyone.(1)
Click here for the human function curve that reviews the stages of good stress leading up to the peak where stress will lead to distress.
Body changes during a stress reaction
When a person is stressed, there are internal reactions that happen within their body. Changes in body functions allow the person to undergo what is called the fight or flight reaction. This means the body is getting ready to fight if needed or run quickly and “get out of Dodge”.
The Australian Diabetes Council has outlined the physical changes that happen with the stress or fight or flight response. They are:
- The persons heart starts to beat faster
- Blood pressure goes up
- Breathing becomes quicker, allowing more oxygen to the brain and muscles
- Blood glucose level rises to give your body more energy to do whatever needs to be done
- Blood moves away from your gut and into the big muscles of your arms and legs so you can act quickly
- Blood gets ready to clot quickly should the person start to bleed
- The person become very alert so that they can think about how to deal with the threat detected (2)
The American Diabetes Association makes the point that when stress is ongoing, a person with diabetes may not fare well. Insulin may not be available to let the extra glucose (sugar) into cells so blood glucose will stay in the blood. This can cause blood glucose levels that are high for a long time. It is not unusual for this to happen during and after hospitalization and at other stressful times.(3)
Mental and Physical Stress (injury or Illness) and Diabetes
A person’s reaction to stress may depend on the type of diabetes they have and the kind of stress that is affecting them.
- Mental stress usually raises the blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes
- Mental stress can cause a person with type 1 diabetes blood glucose to go up or down
- Physical stress will usually cause higher blood glucose levels in people with either type of diabetes.(3)
It is important to test blood glucose level when stressed to see how stress affects individuals with diabetes. People with diabetes are aware that just the motions of taking care of oneself can cause stress. This can include the stress from the following;
- Taking medications according to physicians orders
- Monitoring blood glucose levels
- Eating according to one’s meal plan
- Preforming foot care daily
- Exercising as required
When stress is extreme for the person, distress may set in, problems such as headaches, upset stomach, chest pain and problems sleeping can occur in addition to the increase in blood pressure and blood glucose.(4)
Stress levels in many people are high
According to the American Physiological Association, most Americans suffer from stress that is moderate to high. In 2010, forty percent of Americans reported eating unhealthy foods because of stress and more than 40 percent reported they lost sleep due to stress. It has also been reported that although people recognize exercise is important, only 27 percent are happy with their own exercise levels.(5)
7 Ways to reduce stress
As stress increases in our lives, what can we do to avoid it or if not possible to avoid it, help handle it? Here are 7 ideas to help reduce stress.
- Start a stress log. This will help you to identify what is stressing to you and how you are handling it. For each episode of stress fill answer the questions to the left and after a few days, analyze common patterns and stressors.(6) Review if you can avoid or influence the stressor or is it something that absolutely cannot be avoided. Making this distinction can help you focus on stressors that you may be able to change.(7)
Please feel free to print up this story and fill-in answers in the spaces between questions.
- Use the 4 A’s of Dealing with Stressful Situations as suggested by helpguide.org. (6)
Ways to change the situation: Examples:
|Avoid the stressor||
|Alter the stressor||
Ways to change your reaction: Examples:
|Adapt to the stressor||
|Accept the stressor||
Information in chart taken from here.
- The American Heart Association recommends talking to yourself in a positive fashion. An example would be, I have handled a situation like this before and had a good outcome. I can work on this one step at a time. Negative self-talk increases stress. This includes thoughts of hate and everything going wrong.(8)
- Since between 75-90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress related issues take good care of your health.(4) Regular exercise if approved by your physician, has been shown to decrease tension, improve sleep and stabilize mood.(9) Planning and maybe even making your meals and freezing those ahead of time may help reduce stress and prevent stress related eating.
- Deep breathing and meditation helps. Click here for techniques to use to get your started.
Get professional help when needed. The Cleveland Clinic advises people to call their physician when the following occur:
- Experience a marked decline in work/school performance
- Have excess anxiety
- Misuse alcohol or drugs
- Are unable to cope with demands of daily life
- Have irrational fears
- Have an obsessive preoccupation with food and fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight
- Experience significant change in sleeping or eating habits
- Have persistent physical ailments and complaints
- Have suicidal thoughts or urge to hurt others
- Engage in self-mutilation, self-destructive or dangerous behavior
- Have a sustained withdrawn mood or behavior(10)
(Note if a person is in danger of hurting themselves or others call for immediate emergency assistance. In most places in North America the telephone number is 911. Know the emergency number for your location.)
Remember that stress can be harmful to your health. Work on ways to handle your stress in a healthy way.
[ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Diabetes Care]