November is Diabetes Awareness Month: Stress and diabetes self-management

By Teresa Myers RN/CDE
Veterans Memorial Hospital

We all feel stress at various times in our lives. The stress you experience may include worrying about paying bills and/or having money to buy essential items such as food, clothing and medications. It may be feeling anxious or emotional as a result of a new job, a new home or the birth of a child. Stress has many forms and comes from multiple contributing factors; it can be defined as sad stress or happy stress. Regardless of the source of the stress - stress is stress.

Learning you have diabetes can be hard, and living with diabetes is not simple. Emotions have a profound effect on managing blood sugar levels and following a diabetes treatment plan. Our bodies make and release “stress hormones” when we are “feeling stress”. The release of these hormones into our body system can make your blood sugars levels go up or even go down.

Stress can make it harder to focus on diabetes self care; you may find that you eat too much, or not enough. You may find that you avoid activity and exercise, or forget to take your medications. You may note that one day your medications or insulin work well, but not the next day.

Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms when you are experiencing stress is a key component to managing your stress and diabetes. Signs and symptoms of stress include but may not be limited to:

- physical symptoms, such as headaches, gastrointestinal pain and changes, muscle tension, teeth grinding, fatigue.
- emotional symptoms, such as increased anger or hostility, increased fears or anxiety, frustration with yourself regarding your diabetes management or just feeling “burned out” with having diabetes.
- interpersonal symptoms, such as a lack of patience, feeling more argumentative, distancing yourself from family and friends, avoiding follow-up with health care providers and missing meetings.

Ignoring stress or pretending it does not exist does not help. Using alcohol, tobacco products or other substances to cope with stress will harm your health and make it harder to manage your diabetes. Have a plan to deal with stressful situations. Become more “self-aware.” Combat negative thinking with positive thoughts.

Tips for managing stress may include:                                                                                                               

- talk to someone you trust about your feelings of stress                                                                                         
- allow time to pray or meditate
- find ways to laugh and spend time with people you enjoy
- find ways to visualize stress “rolling off your back”                                                                                                       
- be physically active
- set limits on what you can do for others
- work on one thing at a time
- take up a hobby or activity you enjoy                                                                                                      
- establish and keep consistent sleep times
- when feeling overwhelmed with your diabetes, try ways to relax such  as deep breathing,  yoga or dance
- join a support group, attend meetings or online chat groups.

Most importantly, think of what you have done to help yourself. Do not put yourself down about the things you have not been able to do yet.

The Diabetes Care Team at Veterans Memorial Hospital is always available to help you work out the challenges and stress you are experiencing with your diabetes treatment plan. Call Teresa Myers, RN, Certified Diabetes Educator, or Angie Mettille, RN, at 563-568-3411, Extension 172.

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