If you have Type 2 diabetes, learning how to reduce stress could help you better control your blood sugar levels, say researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. In a recent study, the team of experts documented the link between cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, and higher blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Researchers looked at the link between changes in daily cortisol levels and changes in fasting glucose over a six-year period. The link between cortisol and glucose levels was only seen in those with diabetes, but researchers believe that cortisol likely plays an important role in diabetes prevention too.
Dr Joshua J Joseph, endocrinologist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center said: “In healthy people, cortisol fluctuates naturally throughout the day, spiking in the morning and falling at night. But in participants with Type 2 diabetes, cortisol profiles that were flatter throughout the day had higher glucose levels.”
These sustained levels of cortisol make it much harder to control blood sugar, so for people with Type 2 diabetes, reducing stress is important.
The study’s findings were based on an analysis of over 500 people enrolled in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. The group included people with diabetes, those considered prediabetes, and some who didn’t have diabetes.
How stress can affect diabetes
When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol and adrenaline, two hormones that play a role in the body’s ‘flight or fight’ response. But these hormones also make it more difficult for insulin to work properly - energy can’t get into your cells, so blood sugar levels rise.
If left untreated, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can cause a range of additional health complications. Short-term symptoms of high blood sugar include:
- Excessive thirst or urination
- Increased urination at night
- Blurred vision
- Sores that won’t heal
The link between stress relief and diabetes care
The CDC says that over 34 million Americans are now living with Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that stops the body from using insulin properly.
Medication or insulin is commonly used to help patients manage blood sugar levels, while monitoring blood glucose with one of the best glucometers is also important. Often, lifestyle changes can make a big difference, and reducing stress is one of them.
“Most people with type 2 diabetes know the importance of exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of rest,” said Dr Joseph, “but stress relief is a crucial and often forgotten component of diabetes management.
“Whether it’s a yoga class, taking a walk or reading a book, finding ways to lower your stress level is important to everyone’s overall health, especially for those with Type 2 diabetes.”
How to reduce stress to better manage diabetes
As a result of the study’s findings, the researchers have now launched a new trial to see whether mindfulness exercises can lower blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Meditation is an effective way to help you de-stress and relax, according to the Mayo Clinic. So you could download one of the best meditation apps, many of which contain mindfulness exercises, to see whether they help you reduce stress.
“But this isn’t the only effective form of stress relief,” said Dr Joseph. “It’s important to find something you enjoy and make it a part of your everyday routine.”
So you may have other hobbies or sports that help you better dissolve stress, tension and worry, and also boost your mood. Hobbies and exercises that could help you learn how to reduce stress and relax more include:
- Reading, knitting and cooking
- Arts and crafts, including painting
- Schedule social time with positive friends and family
- Getting consistent, good quality sleep
- Exercises that involve deep breathing, such as yoga and tai-chi
- Heading outdoors to enjoy the mental health benefits of walking
- Learn to play a musical instrument
- Journaling your stresses and worries
- Meditation and mindfulness exercises
Get advice from a licensed therapist
According to the Mayo Clinic’s guide to relieving stress, ‘If new stressors are challenging your ability to cope, or if self-care measures just aren't relieving your stress, you may need to look for reinforcements in the form of therapy or counseling.’
If you decide to seek professional help from a licensed therapist, your medical coverage provider is the place to start looking. The American Psychological Association says that health insurance companies are required by law (under the Mental health Parity Act) to cover services for mental health that are comparable to physical health coverage.
As such, your insurance provider should have a list of clinicians who are currently accepting new patients.