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How Stress Affects Your Blood Sugar
Stress impacts our overall health, including our blood sugar levels. Learn more about how stress affects the body and tips on how to manage it.
Stress isn’t just in our heads, it affects our bodies as well. When you’re living with diabetes, stress management is an important part of diabetes management because it affects your overall health and wellbeing.1,2 Learning more about how the body processes stress can help you understand the impact it has on your blood sugar and your diabetes management routines, empowering you to care for yourself when you’re working through life’s challenges.

Stress and Diabetes Distress

Managing diabetes itself is stressful. Constantly monitoring your glucose levels, watching what you eat, trying to think ahead to carefully plan out your days, and attending medical appointments are just a few of the many responsibilities individuals living with diabetes have to tackle on a regular basis.
Studies have shown that the stress associated with living with diabetes has a greater impact on glucose control than other life stressors for individuals living with diabetes.2,3 This type of stress is part of what’s known as diabetes distress. Diabetes distress refers to the negative emotions that arise because of the burden of managing diabetes.4 These could be feelings of loneliness, anger, overwhelm, or hopelessness—amongst many other challenging feelings that accompany the hard work of managing diabetes mostly on your own.
It’s critical to address diabetes distress because it can have an impact on your ability to continue your diabetes self-management habits. Talking to your doctor about the demands of managing diabetes gives you the chance to collaborate on solutions that support your mental health.

How Stress Impacts Diabetes

Studies have revealed that there’s a nuanced relationship between stress and diabetes. Stress can influence the way our bodies function and impact the processes involved with diabetes.1,2 If you’re living with diabetes or prediabetes, understanding this relationship can give you insight into the role stress plays in how you experience the condition.
Does stress cause diabetes?
The causes of both type 1 diabetes (T1D) and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are very complex. Stress is just one of the many factors that has been linked to the development of both types of diabetes, but stress alone cannot cause the condition.5,6 Experiencing stress is a fact of life, and many things that cause stress are out of our control—like losing a loved one, facing financial uncertainty, or making a major life change. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, know that it is not a personal failing. Acknowledging how stress affects the development of diabetes can help you understand and accept the diagnosis, but it should never be the basis for shaming or blaming yourself for what you’re going through.
Can stress make diabetes worse?
Struggling with mental health challenges like stress can make it harder to stick to habits that support diabetes management such as eating regularly, connecting with loved ones, and doing enjoyable activities.4 Many individuals experience anxiety around hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, which may cause them to over-treat lows, leading to hyperglycemia, high blood sugar.4 It’s critical to consider stress management a part of diabetes management because it impacts an individual’s ability to care for themselves.

How Stress Impacts Your Blood Sugar

Stress has a direct effect on glucose levels. When we’re stressed, our bodies take action to protect us in the moment by altering some of its usual processes. Feeling stressed causes blood sugar to increase because the body perceives that it needs the extra energy to get away from danger.5,6 Chronic or ongoing stress, including experiencing diabetes distress, is associated with higher A1C.4,5 Going through any significant life event, such as navigating a divorce, losing your job, moving, planning a wedding or having a child, has also been shown to increase A1C.3
Keep in mind that stress is just one of the many factors that impact blood sugar along with other variables that may be connected to mood, like not getting enough sleep, having your period, and going through puberty.7 Stress can also cause behavioural changes, such as eating as a way to cope with difficult feelings or not feeling motivated to exercise.4,8 These changes may also contribute to more variable glucose levels.

How to Deal With Stress When You Live with Diabetes

Everyone has different needs when it comes to coping with stress. It’s important to explore what feels good for you and use strategies like journaling to figure out what shifts your mood, and what doesn’t. Here are just a few ways to help cope with stress when you’re living with diabetes:
1. Accept that stress happens.
Stress is a normal human experience and, sometimes, it can’t be avoided. In some cases, you have the power to address the sources of stress in your life. For example, delegating household responsibilities or leaving a job you are not enjoying. Taking the time to uncover the parts of your life that cause stress empowers you to make positive change. Remember that we all experience stress from time to time. Always remember to give yourself grace, especially when stressful circumstances are out of your control.
2. Look after your overall health.
Getting back to the basics of what helps you feel your best can help you manage tough times. For example, engaging in exercise or movement you enjoy on a regular basis is not only great for your glucose control, but it also helps the body process stress in a healthy way.9 Making sure you get high-quality sleep every night and be mindful about caffeine, which can make you feel anxious. You can also try activities that relax the body which “turn off” the stress response such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, meditation, or taking walks in nature.10,11
3. Reach out for help from others.
One of the roots of diabetes distress is a feeling of isolation or that you need to shoulder the weight of managing diabetes alone.4 Having the strength to open up about what you’re going through is an act of self-care. It’s not always easy to talk about your feelings, so start small and reach out to your trusted inner circle such as your partner, your family, or your best friends. Receiving social and emotional support can help you cope with stress and improves overall health.9
4. Build stress management into your diabetes management plan.
Talk to your doctor about how your diabetes management plan affects your stress levels so you can create routines that feel good. Your doctor may be able to help you explore new treatment options including insulin and insulin delivery technology, glucose control medications, and different ways to monitor your glucose. Some studies suggest that the more information and training a person has when it comes to managing diabetes, the less they worry about the condition on a day-to-day basis.2 One way to address any worries you have about your diabetes management is to learn more about how diabetes works and explore topics like what affects glucose levels in the body.

Reduce Some of the Stress of Glucose Monitoring with CGM

Using a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system like a Dexcom CGM System instead of a blood glucose meter (BGM) can help reduce the mental load that comes with keeping an eye on your glucose levels. Dexcom CGM doesn’t require you to prick your fingers to check your glucose.* It also provides a built-in low glucose alarm and customizable alerts that let you know when your glucose levels are outside your target glucose range.
Explore how Dexcom CGM Systems can help you focus on going about your day—rather than wondering where your glucose is at.
  • Learn more about CGM
*If your glucose alerts and readings from the G6 do not match symptoms or expectations, use a blood glucose meter to make diabetes treatment decisions.
1 Yaribeygi H, et al. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
2 Walker RJ, et al. The influence of daily stress on glycemic control and mortality in adults with diabetes. J Behav Med. 2020;43(5):723-731. doi:10.1007/s10865-019-00109-1
3 Hilliard ME,et al. Stress and A1c Among People with Diabetes Across the Lifespan. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(8):67. doi:10.1007/s11892-016-0761-3
4 Robinson D.J., et al. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada: Diabetes and Mental Health. Can J Diabetes. 2018:42 Suppl 1:S130-S141. doi:10.1016/j.jcjd.2017.10.031
5 Sharma K, et. al. Stress-Induced Diabetes: A Review. Cureus. 2022;14(9):e29142. doi:10.7759/cureus.29142
6 Ingrosso D.M.F., et al. Stress and Diabetes Mellitus: Pathogenetic Mechanisms and Clinical Outcome. Horm Res Paediatr. 2023;96(1): 34–43. doi:10.1159/000522431
7 42 Factors That Affect Blood Glucose?! A Surprising Update. The diaTribe Foundation. Updated September 29, 2022. https://diatribe.org/42-factors-affect-blood-glucose-surprising-update
8 Take Charge: Emotions and Eating. American Diabetes Association. Accessed July 18, 2023. https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/weight-loss/emotions-and-eating
9 Stress SOS. Diabetes Canada. Updated July 9, 2021. https://diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/stories/stress-sos
10 Understanding the stress response. Harvard Health Publishing. Updated July 6, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
11 Nurtured by nature. American Psychological Association. Updated April 1, 2020. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature

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