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How Stress Can Aggravate Diabetes

Find out how stress affects your blood-sugar levels and learn how to better manage it.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer

We all have days when we feel we just can’t take much more. Stress can come from a variety of sources — work, finances and relationships. But if you have diabetes, stress can have a potential effect on your blood sugar. It’s important to take steps to manage the stress in your life.

How does stress affect blood sugar?
When you’re under acute stress, your body acts as if it’s being attacked. This fight-or-flight response raises the levels of many hormones in your body, including insulin. Insulin may not be able to let the extra energy into the cells. This can cause glucose to build up in the blood.

Stress management can help
Here are a few ways you can positively cope with stress:

  • Get active! Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week and at least two days of strength training. Check with your doctor to find out what activities are safe for you.

  • Relax. Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation therapy and mindfulness techniques are some ways to take a break from stress.

  • Eat healthfully. These approaches include a Mediterranean-style eating plan, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), plant-based (vegan or vegetarian) and lower-carbohydrate pattern. Work with your doctor or registered dietitian to figure out the best eating plan for you.

  • Get support or help. Joining a support group for people with diabetes may help you not feel so alone. Your diabetes care team may have referrals, too. 
Sources:

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes–2015. Accessed: April 13, 2015.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. What I need to know about eating and diabetes. Accessed: March 27, 2015.
American Diabetes Association. Living with diabetes. Stress. Accessed: March 27, 2015.
American Diabetes Association. Managing stress and diabetes. Accessed: March 27, 2015.

Last Updated: April 23, 2015