Myth: Stress is worrying about getting a job, doing too much, or being under a deadline. Stress and worry are the same thing.
Reality: Anything that causes a change in your life is a stress. Winning the lottery or not having enough money to pay the bills affect you the same way – your body interprets both as stress. Good changes, bad changes, and even imagined changes all place stress on your body.
The stress response goes back to prehistoric man. A message from the brain prepares the body for fight or flight. Chemicals are released to reduce blood flow to some organs and increase blood flow to the muscles. Heart rate and breathing rate speed up. Chemical messages tell the liver to make more glucose, making blood glucose levels rise. Muscles tighten, ready to spring into action fueled with the extra oxygen and blood glucose now available for energy.
For early man it was simple. He was now ready to fight, or to run away from danger. His response used up the stress chemicals and extra blood glucose, returning the body to normal.
However, this process is still set in motion every time the body senses a stress. Without the action of flight or fight, the body stays tense and ready for action. Blood glucose remains high. Without relief from stress, a person may feel driven and under pressure, become exhausted to the point of fatigue, overeat or have a poor diet, experience anxiety or tension, have difficulty concentrating, experience illnesses like colds and flus, or increase unhealthy habits like smoking or consuming too much coffee or alcohol. Chronic, unrelieved stress can affect blood glucose levels, and cause high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression and various other problems.
It is easy to assess how stress affects your blood glucose. Every time you measure your blood glucose, rate your stress level from one to ten. Write the number down next to your blood glucose reading in your logbook. After a few weeks, you will be able to see a pattern.
Myth: “Stress happens. I cannot do anything about it.”
Reality: While stress happens, how you deal with it is within your control. Attitude makes a difference. No two people react the same way to stress. The way you view your ability to cope can change how stress affects you.
The Big Myth: “I cannot handle stress. I am doomed to have high blood glucose, high blood pressure, heart disease and many other health problems.”
Reality: Stress can be managed in many ways. You just have to find the stress reducer that works for you.
Try to identify what is really bothering you – The first step in managing stress is figuring out the cause.
Eat a healthy diet – The foods you eat have a huge impact on your ability to manage stress. Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fats, and tobacco all make it more difficult for your body to cope. Make an extra effort to eat highly nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Drink enough water and other fluids each day (about 9 cups for women and 12 cups for men).
Exercise – Regular physical exercise is a great stress buster. It relieves tight muscles, uses up stress chemicals, helps with relaxation, and often energizes you.
Manage worry – Find a strategy that works for you. Most things you worry about never occur. Think about the worst that could happen. If there is something you can do to avoid that, then do it now. If not, let it go.
Manage your time – Take on no more than you can handle. Learn to say no, and make time for yourself.
Develop friendships – Just talking to a friend, family member or co-worker can help.
Take up a hobby – Do something you enjoy.
Laughter is the best medicine – Keep a copy of a funny picture, movie, television show or book nearby. Laughter strengthens the immune (defence) system. It also releases endorphins (chemicals that reduce pain and give a sense of well-being). This reduces stress hormone levels.
Have a pet – Studies of heart patients show that those who have a pet have lower blood pressure than those who do not.
Deep breathing exercises – Inhale through your nose slowly and deeply as you count to 10. Make sure your stomach and abdomen expand, rather than allowing your chest to rise. Exhale through your nose slowly and completely to the count of 10. Quiet your mind. Concentrate fully on breathing and counting as you inhale and exhale slowly. Repeat five to ten times. Do these breathing exercises several times a day, even when you are not feeling stress.
Muscle relaxation – Lie down comfortably. Do not cross your limbs. Concentrate on each part of your body, while breathing slowly and deeply. Tense a muscle as tightly as possible for a count of five to ten, then release it completely. Begin at the top of your head and progress through all your muscles until you reach your feet. This exercise becomes more effective with practice. It is a great way to get ready for sleep.
Meditation – There are many forms of meditation to try, from spiritual meditation to yoga. It can help settle your mind, allowing you to think more calmly.
Ask for professional help if you need it.
Working to reduce stress can help you manage your blood glucose and gain better control of your diabetes. Identify your stressors. Eat well, rest, relax, and exercise regularly. Practice relaxation techniques, and find what works for you. Taking control of stress can help you to live a longer, healthier life.