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Life with T1D

Emotions and Rising Blood Sugar

The combination of stress and T1D is often a potion for climbing blood sugars and can happen when experiencing physical and/or mental stress. 

Emotions and Rising Blood Sugar

As humans, we have many emotions - happy, sad, excited, nervous and more. With type 1 diabetes, the problem with many of these emotions is that they are often accompanied by one thing type 1 diabetics (T1D) dread. Your blood sugar rises as stress appears, even when you haven’t eaten a thing.

The combination of stress and T1D is often a potion for climbing blood sugars and can happen when experiencing physical and/or mental stress. When stress comes on, the sympathetic nervous system goes into action, whether we’re late to a party, have an oncoming illness, or are trying to meet a deadline. Once we begin feeling anxiety, our blood pressure and heart rate increases. The body then reacts by releasing the stress hormones – cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which can contribute to the blood sugar rising and falling suddenly. 

Even though most of us no longer have the “fight and flight” emergencies that our prehistoric ancestors did, the same protective measure works in the same manner in our bodies. Modern-day stresses often surge additional sugar during challenging times to give you the energy to do the job. 

My Own Encounters with Stress

As a diabetic, I understand how difficult a diabetes distress reaction can be, especially as the body responds by adding additional sugar. Often, an emotional high blood sugar can be a more challenging high to bring down than eating a piece of cake. I have had my blood sugar stay at 250 even when I bolus more than enough units to bring the high blood sugar down. I will then wait for an hour or more for the insulin to take effect; at times, it can stay at the same level or increase. Unfortunately, sometimes, it will continue rising. I will then add another two or more units and hope it will start dropping. 

It’s confusing when a high blood sugar won’t budge, and you don’t want to add so much insulin that you end up low. I often go for a walk and search my brain to find solutions for the cause of stress. When the high blood sugar holds on like this, it is generally a stress-related issue. The difficulty is that you really can’t guess how high the high will go or how long the stress will remain. If stress remains for a long time, it can lead to additional health issues and mental health problems. 

Stress contributes to our emotional and physical state, but there are ways to help counterbalance these feelings. Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter stress by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response.

Dr. Herbert Benson’s Recommendations:

Relaxation Response

These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as peace or calm), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.

Physical Activity

People can use exercise to stifle the buildup of stress in several ways. Exercise, such as a brisk walk after feeling stressed, deepens breathing and helps relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga and tai chi as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm. 

Social Support

Confidants, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, relatives, spouses, and companions all provide a life-enhancing social net — and may increase longevity. It's unclear why, but the buffering theory holds that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends receive emotional support that indirectly helps sustain them during chronic stress and crisis. 

Other Stress Relieving Ideas:

  • Get physically active – Dance and move around! Lift weights, go for a run or a walk. Moving around can help get your feel-good endorphins going. 
  • Stretch and take some deep, slow breaths in and out.
  • Read a good book and light a scented candle to enjoy.
  • Call a relative or friend. 
  • Listen to music or watch your favorite show.   
  • Take a break from news stories. 
  • Express gratitude. It helps us remember there are things to be thankful for. 

Listen to Your Body

It’s important to pay attention to your emotions. Keep a list of some things that work for you to help diminish your stress. You might need to keep working on it and reminding yourself that this, and you, are important to take care of. Talk to your healthcare provider. Watch for patterns or certain times during the day when you feel anxious.

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