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Stress and diabetes

What comes first? The stress or the diabetes?

We are widely aware of many of the physical and behavioural risk factors linked with diabetes. What we don’t talk about enough is the link between stress and emotional wellbeing on both the development and the management of diabetes.

Stress can be described as feelings of being overloaded, wound-up, tense or worried

It can be acute (short-term), recurrent, or chronic (long-term). All types of stress can negatively affect our life. For people already living with diabetes, mental health and emotional wellbeing are factors that can affect blood glucose levels.

Stress, both short and long term, releases hormones into our body that cause a rise in blood glucose levels

Stress can also make it harder for a person to self-manage their diabetes: it can affect the decisions we make about food and exercise, affect sleep and how often we test blood glucose levels and take medications. The frequency of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety among people with diabetes is higher than in people without diabetes. These are issues that are often overlooked but important to include as part of routine diabetes self-management.

For people not living with diabetes, evidence suggests that perceived stress can affect glucose metabolism (impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes). High levels of tension and/or low levels of joy are the key issues that affect glucose levels. This has been found to affect women more than men. That is not to say that stress doesn’t increase a man’s risk of diabetes. Other studies have found that for males, work-related stress in particular has been associated with the development of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

So what is it about stress that increases risk of diabetes?

There are no absolute answers in this area just yet, but we can assume that stress, however we experience it, can affect the choices that we make. It can affect choices such as the food we eat, how we move our body, our sleep and beyond. We want to recognise issues earlier and address them as soon as possible.

Related information sheets

Read the original article

Click here to read the original article. Published in Diabetes SA Living Magazine – November 2017, page 14.

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