Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

Work stress, family stress, and school stress. How many events conjure up that dreaded word "stress"?

Sometimes we feel stress and can’t even say why. Although we can never fully rid ourselves of sources of stress, we can control how we respond to stress, and for people with diabetes, this is especially important.

Your body's response to stress

Our bodies are wired to respond to stress with what is known as a “fight or flight” response. When the body perceives a stressor such as pain, fear, excessive heat, excessive cold, or anger, it gets ready by releasing several survival hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol. These hormones help us get ready to flee quickly or get into a fighting mode. You may even perceive your blood pressure going up during times of stress because of epinephrines.

These hormones cause blood sugars to rise by several different mechanisms and can cause the release of glucose from the liver. Your body thinks you will need energy for this new perceived stressor, so you have a rush of adrenaline for speed and some extra sugar for energy. The trouble is, being stressed does not usually mean being chased by a wild animal, as it did for our ancestors. Stressors of modern day come in varied and different forms.

Stress triggers

It is true that diabetes can be a difficult beast to tame at times, but knowing the triggers that can cause blood sugar fluctuations can keep us more in control by allowing us to be aware and to stay “calm and carry on.”

Illness or injuries are common forms of stress on the body that can raise blood sugars. When you have the flu and don’t feel like eating, you not only have to watch your blood sugars carefully and add insulin/medication if necessary, but you also have to eat and drink to maintain a good balance and avoid getting ketones. Excessive temperature extremes can cause changes in blood sugar control, so try to avoid temperature extremes to keep your diabetes in control.

Finally, mental stress such as that caused by divorce or financial problems can also raise blood sugars and wreak havoc on diabetes control.

Stress management tricks

Engage in yoga, regular exercise, or just meditation. Take time for yourself and be aware of your body to help keep stress at bay during other, more trying times in your day. Breathe!

Avoid setting unrealistic goals for yourself and loved ones during holidays and special events. Holidays, family gatherings, and other events can often be sources of stress. It’s okay to simplify. For example, have everyone bring a dish for a family meal and eat on paper plates. The reason we get together is to embrace our family and friends. We don’t need to outdo each other by spending three days cooking and cleaning. It’s okay to ask for help.

Learn to understand your body and how it responds to stress. Diabetes is our barometer of how we feel inside. Sometimes we don’t even know we are stressed, but our blood sugars tell us otherwise. Sometimes it takes a little detective work to identify the cause of high blood sugar trends.

We can take control of our diabetes, but we have very little control of outside influences in our life. Think before you react, always take time to give thanks for what you have, and know that there are people who are eager to help you—you just need to ask!