How do you react to the stress of managing diabetes? Do you fight or flight?
Whether you are trying to prevent, manage or reverse type 2 diabetes, there is one certainty . . .
It is stressful.
What to eat, what not to eat, trying to get motivated or find time to exercise, worrying about how your A1c will turn out, fear of needing more medication or blood sugars affecting your feet or eyes or heart.
Adding the stress of diabetes to everyday life stressors of work, taking care of family, and finances, can be overwhelming. Considering everything going on it’s no surprise that we are struggling more and more with anxiety and depression.
How do you cope?
Do you turn to food, alcohol, smoking, drugs, shopping, gambling? Or do you have healthy ways to respond to stress?
In this article I want to discuss 3 topics related to the stress of managing diabetes and your mental wellness:
– the connection between stress, diabetes, and nutrition
-ideas for coping with stress
-share some of my experience with stressful life events
Before I go any further, if you are experiencing mental health problems, please talk to your doctor or mental health professional. I am not either of those and this article is just for ideas on dealing with everyday stress that get in the way of our wellness.
Nobody gets by without having at least some stress in their life. And I think I could safely assume that living through the pandemic has caused us all significant stress at some point or another these past 2 years.
Stress can come in the form of chronic stress in everyday life or major life events. These events can be good or bad.
As we get older, we can all reflect back on times in our life we experienced significant stress.
For me it was the year 2010 that started a mental health decline.
In March, my dad had quadruple bypass heart surgery, in April I had to leave a job due to a toxic work environment, then started a new job in June and a second in August. The second job turned out to be very stressful and with both I was working 45 hours a week minimum.
Then in December of that year my sister passed away suddenly in her sleep.
The next 3 years proved to continue the high stress with emotionally draining work and family stress, which also took a toll on my physical health, relationships, and spiritual health. When I look back, I wonder why I stayed in a job that made me miserable for 4 ½ years. During that time my overall wellness spiraled down gradually. But then after reflecting, I know why I stayed.
I was afraid to leave the financial security and was too mentally drained to job search for other opportunities. Even as I am writing this, I have already forgotten what a bad place I was in mentally. I recall crying episodes on a weekly basis but for some reason not feeling like I could get myself out of the situation. Why? . . . . . My confidence was at an all-time low due to the state of my physical, mental, and spiritual health. I could get through my day at work and get done what I needed to get done but I absolutely was in survival mode, just getting through one day at a time.
All I had strength for was to just keep praying for things to change so that’s what I did.
And then one day God decided it was time for things to change. Just before my daughter graduated from high school, I got an offer to work more hours at the job I was already working part time and enjoyed.
Even though I had to give up some income, I knew I had to take the chance to leave the work that was sucking the life out of me. That started the journey to get my wellness back on track.
So, let’s talk about some strategies that can help you cope with stress and bounce back when life does throw mental or physical stress at you.
Fight the stress of managing diabetes AND improve your blood sugars with nutrition.
There are some basic eating habits that can fight against the physical toll stress can take on your body. Remember if you are a middle-aged woman, this is the time in your life you need to strengthen your immune system, your muscles, and your overall wellness. Or it will go downhill faster!
- Regularly eat fish high in omega-3 to fight against stress and depression.
- Eat and drink less sugar
- Minimize processed foods, especially those with chemicals you can’t pronounce. They cause inflammation and many health problems
- Eat foods with magnesium regularly. Stress can increase the loss of magnesium in your body and processed foods are stripped of magnesium. Some lower carb food sources of magnesium are nuts, spinach, pumpkin seeds, black beans, dark chocolate and peanut butter.
- Eat more vegetables to get all kind of nutrients that fight disease.
- Try to have meals with beans each week to get great fiber and nutrition.
- Reduce exposure to toxic chemicals in cookware, water, and processed foods when possible.
- Add herbs and spices like turmeric fight inflammation– In my membership courses, I have an introductory lesson specifically on fighting inflammation with foods
- Choose cage free, organic, hormone free, grass-fed when it makes sense and is realistic
(I teach you step-by-step in more detail how to make these changes in my lessons that are included in my membership.)
If you are working on changing habits in eating or activity, remember that any positive change can have a compounding effect. For example, when you take the first step and switch from sweet drinks to drinking more good water, this will help your body function in so many more ways than just lowering your blood sugar level. This one change moves the needle further than any other and that’s why I include it as one of the very first lessons in my series of courses on diabetes and nutrition.
One of the common sweeteners in sweet drinks and other processed foods today is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Did you know that HFCS may be linked to problems with mental wellness? Apparently HFCS can signal a starvation like response in our body that causes hunger and thirst, even when we are not hungry. If you have high blood sugars your body is working overtime to get rid of the extra sugar and that’s why you get really thirsty. High blood sugars can also cause hunger if your own insulin is not working well enough. Your body thinks you are starving because what you are eating, or drinking is not being processed the way it should for energy.
This starvation response is also a survival pathway where your body stores fat and burns less energy in order to prepare for starvation times, like what happens in animals to prepare for hibernation or long migration. When I started my career, I was working with Indian Health Service, and this was called the thrifty gene theory. This was based on studies of the Pima Indians of Arizona, who had an incredibly high rate of type 2 diabetes due to the change in their food and activity from limited food supply and high activity to just the opposite. The theory is that their bodies were genetically not adapted the change and resulted in a high rate of type 2 diabetes.
Choose your stress management strategies.
Three main lifestyle habits are key for coping with the stress of managing diabetes. They are good nutrition, staying active, and getting enough quality sleep. It seems the older we get, the more challenging it is to juggle all of these in order to feel good right?
Besides those 3 lifestyle strategies, there are some other things you can try for managing stress, here are more strategies I have found helpful. So next time you find yourself having a food craving that you want to resist, try a breathing exercise or one of the other strategies!
- Intentional breathing. Levels of carbon dioxide in your blood changes. Light slow breathing floods your body with feel good hormones such as dopamine and reduces adrenalin and inflammation. You can download an app such as Breathe: relax and focus, to help you get started. Apparently nose breathing is much better for your body than mouth breathing.
- Time to yourself, especially time enjoying nature walking or hiking. Exercise helps lower stress hormone levels. I have learned that I need time to myself on a regular basis to mentally regenerate.
- Talk it out. If you get stress relief from talking it out then talk to your support people – friends, family, spiritual leaders, therapists.
- Time reading devotions from Bible verses. My favorite app for this is Time of Grace.
- Try Yoga. When I am doing yoga regularly every week, I find myself breathing better all the time. You can try it out with yoga with Adriene with this 10-minute video or her 30-day Breath yoga challenge. If yoga doesn’t appeal to you just take a 5-minute stretch break.
- Plan your day and week. Planning adds structure, which can help lower stress. A method of planning meals is a big part of my membership.
- Gratitude list. If you have a lot of negative thoughts getting you down, force yourself to write down 3 things you are thankful for. Thinking of those things forces your brain to switch to positive thoughts, and the more you practice the fewer negative thoughts you will have.
- Help others. This may take the focus off your negative situation and help you get perspective.
My challenge to you: Choose 3 stress management strategies that you like and practice using them for at least the next week.
For those that take more time, schedule them into your week.
For those that take just a couple minutes, such as breathing exercises or stretches, practice using them when stressful events come up in your day.
If you would like to learn more about my 3-month membership program to get your weight or A1c to goal, contact me. Membership includes the courses I mentioned, a meal planning app to help reduce the stress of what to eat and messaging support from me!