Can stress cause high blood glucose?
It is commonly known that certain foods, illness and lack of exercise can increase blood glucose levels. However, another factor that can increase blood glucose levels is stress. Managing stress is quite complicated. To make it even harder, each type of stress can affect blood glucose levels differently. It’s all highly individual. So, how can stress cause high blood glucose and what can you do about it?
Emotional stress may cause a rise in glucose levels
We are mostly aware of physical stress (such as illness, injuries, surgery) and how to manage it. Emotional stress is more complicated to detect and so more difficult 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 - adrenaline and noradrenaline. While the main role of noradrenaline is to prevent blood pressure from falling, adrenaline is an important blood glucose regulating substance1. Raising blood glucose is important in stressful situations, as the body prepares itself for a lot of physical and mental activity. The release of adrenaline helps achieve this and, combined with the increase in blood pressure, ensures the supply of oxygen and glucose to all parts of the body².
For people who do not have diabetes, the body releases insulin to reduce high blood glucose levels. However, for people with diabetes, stress may contribute to increase blood glucose levels for many days, weeks or months.
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 alot 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 glucose rise in any given situation? Sometimes, it helps to write down all situations when your blood glucose is high due to emotional stress and then tally the causes to find out whether there’s any specific situation, feeling or even person to account for a large number of high readings.
3 Steps to find out if stress is affecting your blood glucose levels
- Step 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.
- Step 2. Test your blood glucose and record your result.
- Step 3. After a week or two, study your results to see if there’s any pattern between your stress levels and your blood glucose levels.
Triggers could be tricky
Life changing situations or a big situation are obvious triggers of stress. Stress can be more difficult to identify if the cause is a buildup of many smaller events. Having too much going on does not mean you are stressed. On the contrary, not having enough work, activities or change in your life are all factors that may cause stress. Constantly worrying or feeling that you do not have control over a situation can also cause stress3.
3 ways to reduce mental stress3
- 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.
It is important to understand what stress is and how it effects your body. By identifiying and actively finding healthy ways to overcome your stress triggers, you can help to improve your diabetes management.
1. Glucerna.How Stress Affects Blood Sugar Levels 2020. Abbott Laboratories. Available at: https://glucerna.com/why-glucerna/how-stress-affects-blood-sugar-levels.[Accessed August 2020].
2. Diabetes UK. Stress And Blood Glucose-Levels.2019. Diabetes Digital Media. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/stress-and-blood-glucose-levels.html [Accessed August 2020].
3. Mind Organisation. Stress. 1st ed. [ebook] London: Mind publications, p.1-15. 2017. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/2959/stress-2017.pdf [Accessed August 2020].