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How to live stress-free with type 2 diabetes

Adapting to life in the 2020s is stressful. And for those balancing day-to-day life combined with type 2 diabetes, that stress can be overwhelming. Fear not though—a life without stress is absolutely possible.
Jacqui Hathaway
4/20/2022
7
min read
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Quick summary

  • Reducing stress is especially important for those with type 2 diabetes because stress can impact blood glucose levels.
  • Physical activity, meditation, and relaxation techniques are all ways you can reduce stress.
  • Learn why creating a ‘stress-free’ toolbox is so important for daily life when you live with type 2 diabetes.

Reducing stress is good advice for anyone, but for those with type 2 diabetes, it’s especially important. A stress-free life isn’t just an emotional salve to help you get by—it actually helps keep your blood glucose levels in check. Since stress affects blood glucose levels, it also affects your diabetes management.[1]

Minimising stress and even learning to live stress-free with type 2 diabetes can lead to healthier and more stable days. The Diabetes Association says, “While stress can affect your blood glucose levels, the opposite is true too. High or low blood glucose levels can affect your emotions.”[3] 

Finding tools that build resilience in daily life is key. That way, stress won’t derail you and your diabetes management. Here are a few tools to help you get started. 

🏃 Start an exercise regime

Exercise balances emotions, reduces stress, and improves cognitive function. Moving the body more often means you’ll have more blood circulation to the brain. This increases an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and in turn, the physiologic reactivity to stress.[4] So get up and shift those limbs to and fro. If the treadmill bums you out, get creative! Try dance classes or kickboxing. Maybe solo at-home workouts are more your speed. It’s all about commitment, big or small. 

While stress can affect your blood glucose levels, the opposite is true too. High or low blood glucose levels can affect your emotions

American Diabetes Association

Be mindful of your blood sugar levels while working out. Even though it’s a mood improver and reduces stress, it’s important to stay in touch with how you’re feeling before, during, and after. Stay hydrated to keep your blood sugar levels low and make sure to keep a snack on hand in case you experience hypoglycemia.[5]

🤝 Stay connected with loved ones

A hug from a family member or friend goes a long way. Physical contact releases oxytocin, which is known to lower norepinephrine (a chemical in the body that is responsible for how you react to stress and anxiety) and stress hormone levels.[2] So, find time to cuddle someone you love, even if that someone is a pet!  

🧘 Learn to meditate

You’ve surely heard the phrase “let it go” ringing through self-help literature and musicals alike, probably enough to lose interest. But letting go is no platitude — there’s a lot of power in releasing what we unconsciously tie to ourselves. The most common way to “let go” and practice detachment is through meditation. Bring awareness to your thoughts, breath by breath. Staying in tune with the rhythm of your breath can help reduce stress, even when everything around you feels out of control.[7]

🗣 Ask for help

If you happen to get a little dopamine boost from productivity, you’re not alone. But guess what? There are no gold stars or awards for martyrdom. There’s no point in doing it all alone. Someone else can help carry the burden when it’s too much. Reaching out is a great way to reduce stress.[2] Ask for help when you need it and you’ll realise everything gets done without losing yourself in the process.

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✅ Create more manageable to-do lists

Dreaming big is great, but when your goals exceed reality and you can’t seem to accomplish anything noticeable in a single day or week, that can be…discouraging. Creating practical to-do lists can help reduce stress because you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment by checking off small, manageable goals.[2] That goal can even be checking blood sugar levels, taking medications, or staying on track with healthy eating habits. 

The feeling of “piling up” or having extra baggage adds to stress. Try visualising each task at hand instead of letting the whole overwhelming pile of unfinished projects weigh on your mind. 

🌳 Take a walk outside

Walks are great stress relievers you can use almost anywhere, and when you combine being in nature with the endorphins from moving your body, it’s even better! [6] Apply some of the previously mentioned tools on your walk like meditation, connection with loved ones (if you want to walk with a friend), and visualisation. Stepping out in nature is the best option, even if that’s on a city street. Slow down and take in the environment by absorbing sounds, smells, and details around you. Notice everything in the present moment, and this will help reduce stress. 

🎨 Connect to creativity

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to forget about hobbies and creative pastimes that relax and bring you joy. Try reconnecting with long-forgotten hobbies like knitting, painting, or reading.[8] It’s important to make “free time” for yourself, even if that’s just 30 minutes in the day. Scheduling hobbies into your day, like you would any other activity, is a great reminder that you deserve relaxation. 

Remember that stress-free living doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not completely realistic to remove all stress, but reducing most of it is totally doable. Like anything, the more you practice reducing stress, the easier it’ll be to rely on these tools. It will become second nature along with managing type 2 diabetes. Give yourself grace and remember to celebrate progress as you move forward. 

Whether you’re at a work function, stuck in traffic, or just aware that stress hormones are on the rise, slow down and remember you’ve got a toolbox. Long term tools are great but sometimes you’re shorthanded, so remember the strategies for those times too. Eventually, if not immediately, you’ll feel you can breathe easily and without stress, which helps every aspect of life, especially type 2 diabetes management. 

References

[1] Sullivan D., Perdie J. (2020). Diabetes and Stress: Know the Facts. Healthline. Accessible here

[2] Scott. E., Goldman R. (2021) Highly Effective Stress Relievers for Your Life. Verywell Mind. Accessible here

[3] The Diabetes Advisor: Diabetes and Stress. American Diabetes Association. Accessible here.

[4] Sharma A. Madaan V. Petty D.F., (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Accessible here

[5] Plumptre B. (2021). How Does Exercise Affect Blood Sugar Levels?. Habitual. Accessible here

[6] Five Ways Walking Helps to Relieve Stress. Huffpost. Accessible here

[7] Scott E. (2020). An Overview of Meditation. Verywell Mind. Accessible here.

[8] Dansinger M. (2021). Managing Stress When You Have Diabetes. Webmd. Accessible here.

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