STRESS AND TYPE 2 DIABETES: IS THERE A LINK?

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What boosts a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes? Many factors. Some can’t be controlled, such as being over the age of 45 or having a close family member with the disease. Other things, however, can be controlled, like drinking too much alcohol, smoking, being inactive, or being overweight.

There is another potential diabetes risk factor that can be controlled. You may not have heard of it. It’s a less well-known one that has caught the attention of researchers: stress.

A handful of studies suggest that long-term stress may also pave the road to type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to back up these findings. And researchers aren’t sure how stress may raise the risk. But one thing’s for sure: chronic stress can raise your blood sugar levels.

Here’s how: When faced with a stressful situation, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Once that happens, extra fat and glucose (sugar) are released into your blood. This gives your cells a quick source of fuel to use in the emergency.

Once the stressful event has passed, your body tends to switch off the fight-or-flight response. All systems usually return to normal—including your blood sugar levels. But here’s the catch: When stress happens day after day, your body may get stuck in fight-or-flight mode. And that in turn may lead to chronically high blood sugar. For someone who already has diabetes this situation may make the condition much harder to manage.

It’s a good idea to lower stress, even if you don’t have diabetes. Even if you’re healthy, long-term stress can change that. It can lead to digestive problems, anxiety, depression, weight gain, sleep problems, and heart disease.

Luckily, stress can be managed. You can take steps to both reduce and cope with it better. Here are a few tools that can help:

  • Pinpoint your stress triggers. Many people feel stressed all the time, and may not even know why. But when you pinpoint your stress triggers, you can come up with strategies to avoid or cope with them. Traffic has you stressed? Leave 30 minutes earlier for work. Not enough time to get ready in the mornings? Wake up 15 minutes earlier or try getting things organized the night before. Facing problems head-on can help you gain control of your stress.
  • Pare down your daily to-do list. Many people take on too much. If most days are spent running frantically from one task to the next, think of ways you can pare down your to-do list. Highlight your top priorities for each day. Then save the other tasks to do at a later date. You’ll get to them.
  • Change your inner dialogue. How you react to stressful events may depend largely on what you tell yourself about them. You can learn to stay calm by changing your self-talk. Start telling yourself, “I can cope with this,” or “There’s an easy solution to this problem,” during tough situations. Make these your mantras.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and tai chi are but a few tools you can learn to use to ease stress. Check online or at local community centers for classes. Regular workouts can also help ease stress.
  • Seek support. If you find you can’t cope with stress, seek help from a therapist or support group.

If you’re dealing with other risks for diabetes besides stress, talk with your doctor about steps you can take to cut those risks, as well.