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How Stress Affects the Body in Diabetes

June 3, 2020
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Stress has become part of daily life, and it can affect the body in many ways. Stress-induced symptoms such as foggy thinking, a pounding heart, exhaustion, upset stomach, and headaches can be all-too-familiar for people who feel overwhelmed with stress.

Stress can also affect diabetes management, leading to trouble with blood sugar control, increased infections, and difficulty living your healthiest life with diabetes. Lark for Diabetes can help you manage stress when you have diabetes so blood sugar can stay under control and you can stay as healthy as you can.

What Is Stress?


Stress is your mind and body’s response to certain situations. In acute stress, we can think of the “fight or flight response” to a certain event. Cavemen may have needed to fight or flee from wild animals, for example, while modern people may experience the stress response when facing a driving test, a confrontation with a neighbor, a driving test, or busy day of travel with the family. Acute stress is a helpful adaptation to let your body do extraordinary things through increased focus and greater energy levels.

Chronic stress happens when stress stays around for days, months, or longer. Your body continues to prepare for fight or flight, but never catches much of a break. Chronic stress can come from a strained relationship, trouble at work or school, health concerns for yourself or others, and worries about money, for example. Chronic stress can lead to headaches, chronic inflammation and increased health risks, and trouble concentrating.

How Stress Can Affect the Body in Diabetes


Stress can greatly affect blood sugar, insulin, and more when you have diabetes. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are behind many of the effects of stress on the body.

Blood sugar can increase.

Cortisol signals your brain and body that it is time to prepare to take action. You may be able feel this as your heart pounds and muscles tense. At the same time, what you may not feel is that cortisol signals a hormone called glucagon to trigger the liver to release glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. The result: higher blood sugar.

Cortisol’s role in preparing your body for action goes beyond mobilizing glucose stores. Cortisol also works to make sure that the energy that you might spend (whether fighting a bear or running to stop your toddler from toddling into the street) gets replenished. That means you may feel hungry even when you do not truly need the food – and that can lead to weight gain. Again, the result is an increase in blood sugar. Testing your blood sugar regularly and checking your trends in Lark for Diabetes can help you see if your blood sugar trends have been up recently.

Insulin resistance can increase.

The role of the hormone insulin is to allow glucose to get out of the bloodstream and into certain cells that either need glucose or can store it. Beta cells in the pancreas release insulin into the bloodstream when blood sugar levels are high, such as after a meal with carbohydrates or during the stress response. With regular testing and insights from Lark, you may notice certain patterns in terms of when your blood sugar tends to be up.

In type 2 diabetes, the body has insulin resistance, which means more insulin is necessary to clear the same amount of glucose from the blood. In early and mid stages of type 2 diabetes, there is a high level of insulin in the body compared to someone without diabetes. Insulin resistance can develop when glucose is repeatedly high so a lot of insulin is repeatedly needed. This can happen over time during weight gain, since excess carbohydrates increase blood sugar, and during the chronic stress response, when blood sugar levels repeatedly increase as cortisol acts.

The immune response can change.

People with diabetes are already at higher risk for infections due to changes in the immune response as well as circulation. Causes can include a weakened or altered immune system, as well as poorer circulation due to peripheral neuropathy. Results can include more respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu, and increased risk for certain cancers, such as pancreatic, breast, colon, and liver cancer. With chronic stress and activation of certain parts of the immune system, infections could increase. Nutrition coaching in Lark for Diabetes can help you choose foods that support a healthy immune system.

Heart disease risks can increase.

Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and stress can add to the trouble. With weight gain, including the accumulation of abdominal (belly) fat, can come other risk factors, such as the following.

  • High total cholesterol and “bad” LDL-cholesterol.
  • Lower “good” HDL-cholesterol.
  • Interference with normal blood clotting.
  • High blood pressure.

Losing weight can be a challenge when stress is added to type 2 diabetes, but Lark for Diabetes has tools that can help, including tracking weight and offering personalized insights and tips when you need them.

How Stress Can Affect Lifestyle Choices and Further Affect Diabetes


How do you feel when you feel stressed out? Are you tired? Do you get achy muscles? Do you get discouraged? For many people, these and other effects of too much stress can get in the way of living a healthy lifestyle. Some consequences can include:

  • Stress-eating, or eating too much because of feelings or fatigue and not because of true hunger.
  • Skipping workouts because of feelings of fatigue, muscle aches, or feeling too busy to take time to work out.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption to dull feelings or generate a feeling of relaxation.
  • Increased smoking or tobacco use to manage anxiety.
  • Getting less sleep due to anxiety.

These can all harm health and especially blood sugar. Stress-eating, skipping exercise, and drinking more alcohol, for example, can all lead to weight gain, which can increase blood sugar levels. Sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance and also cause weight gain due to increased hunger. Skipping workouts can increase feelings of depression and reduce energy. The list goes on, but Lark can help you keep up – or establish – healthy habits that work both to fight stress and manage diabetes.

Stress Management and Diabetes


Nobody can or should get rid of stress entirely, but letting it overwhelm you is neither fun nor healthy. Stress management includes reducing stress where you can and, for the stress that remains, learning to respond to it in healthier ways.

Healthy habits such as staying physically active and eating well can help reduce the negative effects of stress. Lark’s stress management coaching also walks you through stress management techniques, from acknowledging stress to deep breathing to visualization.

Diabetes management is a balancing act that can have amazing payoffs in terms of long-term health and wellness. Stress can throw a wrench into the loop, but managing stress along with diabetes can keep you as healthy as possible. Lark for Diabetes can help you manage stress and make smart choices that fit into your lifestyle so they can become habits.