Blood sugar and stress
In November 2019, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The main contributing factor was being overweight. The good news is, you can turn that situation around. I’ve since lost 35 pounds and am thankfully no longer diabetic.
It made me think about blood sugar levels and how stress can have a potentially dangerous affect on the levels in your blood.
Before we look into the details of the effects stress can have on blood sugar, lets look at stress in more detail.
It is a word that we use often and maybe sometimes don’t fully appreciate the meaning of the word and how profound the effects can be.
Certain types of stress can be so severe that it results in a rise in blood sugar levels, causing health havoc. We’re going to look a this in more detail in this article so that this can be avoided.
DISCLAIMER – PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM NOT MEDICALLY TRAINED AND IF YOU SUSPECT STRESS IS AFFECTING YOUR BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS, PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR.
What is Stress?
Stress is not purely a mental issue, it does have physical aspects too. Stress is the result of how your body reacts to a troublesome situation. It might be a transient, short term issue. Possibly it is connected with work, relationships, or the goings-on of everyday life. It could be a physical issue, illness or an accident that causes concern.
It may be something that is much more long term that consistently puts you under pressure. It could be your financial situation, a complicated relationship, a breakup, or a bereavement.
Whatever the cause of your stress, it can hit you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Stress affects everyone
Without exception, all of us will experience stress at one time or another.
The causes of stress (a stressor) can be either short term or long term. The most important consideration is that some people have more considerable coping skills than others, and they can also recover from stress much more quickly.
There are three types of stressor:
- Routine stress – these are the everyday aspects of life that we struggle with. It could be family, work, school, and everyday life.
- Sudden negative change – this could be an accident, losing a job, divorce, or break up.
- Traumatic stress – this includes a major accident, war, assault, or natural disaster.
Not all stress is bad
If you as an individual face a dangerous, or potentially dangerous, situation, it is the stress that sends out signals to the body to get ready to take some action.
This could be to flee or possibly fight known as the ‘fight or flight response’). You’ll remember the way you felt when you were faced with any sort of threat. Your pulse raced, your breath quickened (taking in more oxygen), and your muscles got tense in anticipation. In dangerous situations, it is the stress that ensures your survival.
In cases such as job interviews, it is partly the stressful nature of the encounter that helps you get prepared properly.
In fact, in small doses, stress can be of huge benefit to us. Your body releases hormones that can help you focus, improve memory and also help you generally ‘raise your game’.
Long-term stress is not good for your health
Chronic stress (long term stress) represents particular difficulties because the body is continually receiving warnings to be ready to fight or flee. The body never gets the all-clear signal.
Driving instructors, who have to be alert for many hours a day, can suffer from this and it can cause other functions in the body such as digestion, immune system, and cardiovascular system to malfunction.
In some people, the result is sleeplessness and irritability, while in other people, it can be much more severe and result in heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It can also lead to mental illnesses.
Stress and blood sugar
When an individual becomes stressed, signals are sent out to the whole body to “get ready” for action. This is a normal function and part of the body’s self-defence system.
The problem is that it also releases a form of adrenaline, glucagon, growth hormone, and cortisol. These releases cause the liver to produce more glucose to provide the energy for this potential fight or flight reaction.
The body also sees an infection or emotional difficulty as a stressful situation and reacts the same way.
To make sure that the body is going to have enough energy to react to these threats, insulin levels fall, glucagon and adrenaline levels rise, and the liver produces more glucose into the blood. Simultaneously, growth hormone and cortisol levels rise, and this causes muscles and fat to be less sensitive to insulin which results in even more glucose becoming available in the bloodstream.
When you have type 2 diabetes, stress may make your blood sugar go up and become more challenging to control – and you may need to take higher doses of your diabetes medications or insulin.
If a person with type two diabetes takes too much medication, it can cause the blood sugars to fall to low levels. The body sees this as a threat and invokes its procedures to deal with this kind of stress, and the body reacts as described above, resulting in blood sugar levels shooting up. This is called a rebound or somogyi reaction and can make it challenging to establish blood sugar.
To control the high blood sugar caused by the stress, the user may then choose to take more blood sugar medication, which is precisely what caused the situation in the first place. Getting blood sugar levels back to normal levels can take some time.
The main symptoms of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) are:
- increased thirst
- blurred vision
- poor concentration
This situation where the blood sugar is much too high can be dire. A person with type two diabetes may develop a hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (a diabetic coma), and unless the situation is stabilised with medical care, it can be fatal. Each year in the USA, there are 2400 deaths due to this condition.
There are 29.1 million diabetics in the USA. Still, it is estimated another 8.1 million people do not know they have diabetes.
NINJA TIP – Diabetes is something that can creep up on you (it certainly did to me) so if you experience a combination of the above symptoms and know that you have been overweight for some time – go get checked.
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can, over time, result in damage to the body’s organs, and tissues. If this continues, it can reduce the immune response of the body, and this will lead to a reduced ability to heal cuts, damage to the nerves and vision problems.
Ways of reducing stress with long term stressors
Stress is a cause of high blood sugar. As we see above, stress can lead to several severe medical complaints.
Recognising that you’re dealing with long term stress can be a feat by itself but then it’s always best to try and tackle the causes of stress and develop techniques for controlling it. In this section, we will look at various ways you can approach this.
Sometimes the stressful situation that faces us is just a momentary state. It is gone shortly after it arrives. However, some stressful situations can continue much longer.
We may not always be outwardly thinking about the issue, but they are still present in the background. Also, how we react to a stressful situation is connected with how prepared we were for it. Finding ways of handling situations can help us prepare for them better.
Identifying the stress
When a stressful situation appears on the horizon, stop, and think carefully about what you are facing. Putting your thoughts in writing can help you develop a better understanding. What is stressful about this situation? Write it down. Identify the stressful points.
Identify what your feelings are and name them. Accept these feelings as being valid, don’t feel you have to fight against them. Perhaps research is too grand a word to use, but find out everything you can about the situation and how others deal with it. Understanding a situation should make it less stressful.
Choose to be positive
Yes, you are dealing with something stressful, but try not to fixate on just the negative aspects of it. Much easier said than done of course, but your mind is an amazing tool if we learn how to control it better.
Instantly reject any thought like “I can’t do this” and replace it with “what’s the best way for me to deal with this?” Think about how people in similar situations have succeeded in beating it.
Act on it
Thinking about the issue is just the start. You will feel much better when you start to act on solving the problem. If you can only tackle part of the problem for now, well that’s a start, and you’ll immediately feel less stressed. That feeling of success may just be enough to inspire you to tackle the next part of the problem.
If you are surrounded by people who are telling you that there is nothing you can do and are continually talking you down, then lose them.
Seek out and CHOOSE to mix with positive people.
Negativity is super infectious. Most people are not aware of how negative they are and how insidious it can be.
What you are doing is turning something very negative that you worry about into a project that you are trying to find solutions for. You have gone from the defence stance to an offensive one.
A more physical approach
Exercise is brilliant for stress relief. There are all sorts of instant benefits like the endorphins released that make you feel great, the focus is taken away from your worries with exercise being closely linked to the positive effects that meditation has on your mindset.
In addition there is the sense of achievement and with regular exercise you can start to enjoy the benefits that come from improving your physical health that not only helps your body deal better with the effects of stress but also, you’ll be less stressed because your physical health is better!
Alcohol and nicotine
Alcohol and nicotine have the ability to alter our mental state and in small doses can help you let loose and enjoy time socially. However, you must be really careful with these as it’s so easy to overuse them as a crutch when stressed.
Alcohol taken in excess is a depressant, and if a smaller quantity is taken then it is a stimulant. Either way, it does not produce a desirable outcome that will help you in the long run. Nicotine is also a stimulant and should be avoided.
Diet and blood sugar
While we have established that in stressful situations, our body produces extra glucose outside of your control, our diet is something we can control. The more we understand about food and blood sugar, the more in control we are.
The body manufactures blood sugar (blood glucose) from the food we eat. This sugar circulates in the bloodstream to provide energy for our daily needs. Any excess is stored in fat. Having too much sugar in the blood, as we have seen earlier in the article can be detrimental.
The food that we eat is broken down into:
- vitamins and other nutrients
The sugar is produced from carbohydrates. The more carbohydrates that we eat, the greater the amount of sugar that is produced through the digestion process.
If carbohydrate is in the form of a drink, then it will be digested much quicker. Carbohydrates have the greatest impact of all the food groups when it comes to blood glucose. If you are diabetic, carbohydrates are the most important food group to monitor.
The foods that contain the most carbohydrates are:
- white grain products, pasta and rice
- white bread
- cold processed cereals
- sugary drinks
To help reduce blood sugar spikes you can substitute whole grains whenever possible (brown rice, whole grain bread etc). Try to eat every three to five hours. Eating three meals and a couple of healthy snacks will keep your blood sugar levels consistent.
Exercise is an essential factor as well for keeping your blood sugar regular. Your blood sugar is in your blood to provide energy. When you exercise – you use that energy. Regular exercise will make your cells more sensitive to insulin which controls blood sugar.
Three tips to lower blood glucose in an emergency
If you suddenly find yourself in a stressful situation and your blood sugar levels soar, there are three ways that you can help to restore safe levels quickly.
Drink lots of water
Drinking lots of water will encourage you to urinate; the urine contains glucose and helps to reduce levels in your body. Don’t use this tip if you have heart or kidney problems.
Exercise makes the body demand glucose. This will assist in reducing glucose in the bloodstream.
Eat a high-protein snack
Almonds, turkey meat, any snack that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates will reduce your blood glucose.
In a real emergency, seek medical help at a hospital as insulin will work much faster.
Three tips to raise blood glucose in an emergency
With people with diabetes in particular, blood sugar can sometimes just suddenly drop. Here are ways of taking fast action to increase your blood sugar.
Eat or drink some sugar
3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar or honey will do the trick and orange juice or other sugary drink will work even faster.
A handful of raisins is another fast way of boosting blood sugars.
You can buy glucose tablets in some supermarkets and pharmacies. These are good to keep on hand in case of emergencies. Take 3 or 4 if required.