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Can stress cause high blood sugar?

« WeCare Blog | October 14, 2020 |
Can stress cause high blood sugar?

It is commonly known that certain foods, illness, and lack of exercise can increase blood sugar levels. However, stress is another factor that can increase blood sugar levels. Managing stress is quite complicated. To make it even harder, each type of stress can affect blood sugar levels differently. It’s all highly individualised. So, how can stress cause high blood sugar and what can you do about it?  

Emotional stress may cause a rise in glucose levels

We are mostly aware of physical stress and how to manage it. Emotional stress is harder to manage. Feelings like fear, anxiety, anger and excitement all cause the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream, to help prepare the body for the so-called ‘fight-or-flight response’. When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands become enlarged and produce two hormones – epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and norepinephrine. While the main role of norepinephrine is to prevent blood pressure from falling, epinephrine is an important blood sugar regulating substance. Raising blood sugar is important in stressful situations, as the body is told to get its glucose levels up in preparation for a lot of physical and mental activity. The release of epinephrine helps achieve this and, combined with the increase in blood pressure, ensures the supply of oxygen and glucose to all parts of the body in a stressful situation. ²

For people with no diabetes, the blood sugar rise that follows is balanced by insulin release by the body to keep blood sugar moderate. However, for people with diabetes, this stress might cause a direct and prolonged increase in blood sugar levels.   

Look for patterns

Anxious moments and nerve-racking situations happen to all of us. Naturally, different events or actions cause different responses in individuals. What causes a lot of anxiety for you might have no effect on someone else. The key is to look for patterns. Exactly what could be the reason for a blood sugar rise in any given situation? Sometimes, it helps to write down all situations when your blood sugar is high due to emotional stress and then tally the causes to determine whether there’s any specific situation, feeling or even person to account for a large number of high readings. 

How to find out if your glucose levels are affected by stress

  1. Rate your stress level from 1-10, where 1 indicates the lowest stress level and 10 the highest. Record the stress level along with situation and feelings in your logbook. 
  2. Test your glucose and enter the result.
  3. After a week or two, study your results to see if there’s any pattern between your stress levels and your blood sugar levels.

As an example, you can set up your stress dairy like this:

Triggers could be tricky 

Stress can be caused by one big thing, but it can also be caused by a build-up of many small pressures, which might be harder for you to identify. Also, feelings of stress aren’t necessarily triggered by having too much on your agenda. On the contrary, it could be stressful not having enough work, activities or change in your life. Also, worries can cause stress, or not having control over the outcome of a situation.3 

3 ways to reduce mental stress

  • Learn how to relax during stressful moments by using deep-breathing exercises
  • Evaluate your schedule to find how to make changes to relieve stress
  • Exercise regularly and take regular outdoor walks to experience nature, which generally has a soothing effect on the body and soul.  3

3. Stress – Mind Organisation 2017