Stress Management and Diabetes: Why It’s Critical for Better Blood Sugar

Minimizing stress is a key part of your diabetes treatment plan.

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When you think of managing type 2 diabetes, you probably think about taking your medication, eating healthier (fewer processed carbs, more veggies), and trying to exercise more. And all of those habits are critical. But you might be overlooking the power of stress reduction in your diabetes game plan.

“Stress has an impact on your whole body,” says internist Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “One of the things it does is it causes the release of a stress hormone called cortisol. What does cortisol do in the body? It raises blood sugar.” That might not be a huge deal if you occasionally feel a surge of stress when you’re under a tight work deadline or are running to catch your commuter train. But if you’re under daily stress (like so many people are), that means your stress hormones could be keeping your blood sugar levels in a chronic state of elevation.So if that sounds familiar, it pays to make a concerted effort to minimize stress in your daily routine. And some of the habits that are proven stress reducers are also fantastic for diabetes management. Exhibit A: exercise.

“Exercise helps your blood glucose levels. Exercise helps you decrease your stress levels. Exercise just has a lot of benefits,” says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, an internist in New York City.

In fact, as a certified diabetes educator, Sandra Arevalo, RDN, says helping patients identify go-to stress relievers is an important part of the conversation. “We explore different options for the patients and we try to find what relaxes them, what they like to do, what keeps them out of the real world for a little bit,” she says. “We make a list of the things that you like to do and we say, ‘Okay, these are your top three things that you're gonna do when you're feeling stressed or anxious.’"

Whether your best chill-out method is a sweat session at the gym, a more leisurely walk with your dog, curling up with a novel, or just cuddling on the couch with your kids or partner, the key is to carve out time to make de-stressing a habit. Over time, you just might see a difference in your blood sugar numbers as a result.