Blood Sugar Control, Mind Health, Stress, Well-Being
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How to be More ‘Zen’ When Managing Stress & Blood Sugar Levels

In Focus Series: Stress & Type 2 Diabetes

Stress, whether emotional or physical, such as injury, illness or infection can impact on your ability to manage your blood sugar levels. This is because your stress hormones directly affect glucose metabolism.

Most individuals with type 2 diabetes will experience an increase in blood glucose levels, when under stress. Managing your condition can prove to be extremely stressful in itself, which can become a major barrier to effective control.

The hormones cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine), are released into the blood stream when you are experiencing stress. These ‘flight or fight’ hormones cause your liver to release stored glycogen and convert it into glucose, or break down protein into glucose, so you are ready to take action. Your body increases your breathing and heart rate and directs blood to the muscles.

Once glucose is released into the bloodstream, your body may not be able to handle the additional load, especially if you are also eating carbohydrate laden foods. Glucose will then build up in the bloodstream, elevating blood glucose levels. Couple this with insulin resistant cells and this can create long term problems, both mentally and physically by driving blood glucose high.  This can set the stage for future complications both neurological and vascular.

Constant chronic stress can make managing type 2 diabetes very difficult. Different types of stress will affect your body in different ways and will vary greatly between individuals. Infection can drive blood glucose levels through the roof.

Everyone experiences stress differently and sometimes you may not notice any symptoms at all. Chronic stress can certainly take its toll on your emotional well-being, from making inappropriate food choices to medication mismanagement, or loss of interest in your personal health and well-being.

Recognizing the signs can help you to manage the situation. Many individuals experience tension headaches, muscle aches, excess sleep or too little sleep, feeling fatigued, generally unwell as well as unmotivated, irritable, depressed or anxious.

You may also behave out of character, hiding from personal contact with family or friends, over eating or not eating, turning to alcohol, drugs, over the counter medications or prescribed solutions.

Getting in the ‘Zen’ Zone

Keeping a Diary

Keeping a diary can help you to determine specific triggers, which are individual to you. For example managing your condition, specific situations at work, driving in heavy traffic, certain individual’s attitudes or financial worries. If you also have another chronic condition, it is important to monitor how that condition affects your ability to keep blood sugar levels in check.

Understanding how stressed you feel and recording that data alongside your food choices and blood glucose readings, will help you to identify tipping points in both your mental and physical health.

You need to keep your diary for several weeks and look out for patterns. A single one off event doesn’t mean very much, but an identifiable pattern can mean that stress is affecting you long term, especially if glucose levels are regularly high.

Reducing stress is about finding different ways to deal with difficult situations or feelings, it’s about changing your reaction to what is going on around you. There will always be things that you cannot change immediately, such as financial and family worries, but it’s about taking time out to think things over logically and make the appropriate choices and decisions.

Calming the Mind

Calming the mind can bring great relief, but like anything it takes time to learn the skill of being able to ignore the ‘monkey chatter’ that goes on in your head. Using meditation techniques or relaxing music can help to set the mood and help to remove negative thoughts. Using repetitive mantas can also help and push away any other thoughts, this allows you to be present in the moment.

When faced with unexpected emotional stress, try and walk away and take time out for yourself, removing yourself from the environment and finding a space to focus on your breathing and gather your thoughts can help, even for five minutes.

This will help to slower your heart rate, bring your breathing in line and help stabilize your body. This act of centering can help you improve your reaction to stress and how you deal with it.


Exercise can help with both physical and emotional stress. Exercise that focuses the mind can be especially beneficial, such as yoga.

Walking in nature can be very balancing, the fresh air invigorates your entire system, allowing your mind to focus. Find the exercise that works best for you, some individuals find vigorous activities help ‘vent’ out emotional stress.

It’s OK to Say ‘No’

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by family issues, remember that it’s OK to say no. This is also true in work situations, if you feel overwhelmed. Discuss your feelings with someone you can trust, to get an objective view on the situation.

Stress issues at work often find their way into home life. Work through your options, which might even mean looking at changing direction, finding a new career or finding a new challenge. Boredom at work can also be a stress in itself.

Diabetes Related Stress

Diabetes related stress is extremely common and can vary enormously in the context of other situations. We all move through positive and negative feelings, finding support and connecting with others, is important in helping you to understand that you are not alone. There are many support groups online and you may find some in your local community.

Professional Help

If you feel your stress is severely affecting your health, speak to your doctor or seek other professional help. A therapist can provide you with coping mechanisms designed to your individual situation and give you a safe environment in which to talk. They may also provide medical advice that online or in-person support groups can’t offer.

There is no doubt that type 2 diabetes is challenging, but the more controlled you become, your ability to manage the stress in your life becomes easier to control too. Being in charge of your diabetes puts you in the driving seat, helping you to lead a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Online Support

If you’re looking for an online support group, check out our Facebook Group
The Sugar Hunter for those with type 2 diabetes and their families and friends.

FREE Trial and Membership to The Sugar Hunter

For those of you wanting to get started on gaining better control, check out our FREE program and membership site The Sugar Hunter Experience, to get a taste of our main online self-management toolkit. Find out more at: The Sugar Hunter Experience

Hi I’m Beth, a nutritional therapist and coach (BSc N. Med mFNTP CNHC) at Clinicanutrition, I’m the creator of The Sugar Hunter Program, an online self-management toolkit and group coaching support program for blood sugar control.