Stress, diabetes and hyperglycaemia

From the elderly to young children, it seems that everyone has to deal with stress nowadays. Stress is our body’s (and mind’s) way of telling us that something has upset our normal equilibrium. At times stress is not a bad thing as it may motivate us to succeed, but sometimes, stress can affect us in a negative way.

Stress can influence blood sugar control in many ways. It can cause hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) as well as interfere with our self-care in the following ways:

  • Poor sleep: When you are under a lot of stress, your sleep may be quite disrupted. You may find yourself not sleeping well and feeling tired.
  • Smoking or drinking too much: You may also turn to “quick fix” ways to relieve your stress.
  • Lack of exercise: You may not feel like bothering about your treatment regime and find yourself too tired to do any exercise.
  • Changes in appetite: Some of us may engage in comfort eating as well.

All these behaviours can have a significant impact on our diabetes management. It is important to manage both stress and diabetes as they can interact with each other. When you are stressed, your blood sugar may increase and when your blood sugar is not under control, you may feel less able to cope with stress and more easily affected by things.

Unfortunately, at times, diabetes management can in itself be a huge source of stress! Being diagnosed with diabetes causes some emotional distress in most people. The required lifestyle changes (exercise, diet management, avoidance of smoking and drinking) do involve a lot of effort, thus creating stress. The best way to manage that stress is to increase our knowledge of diabetes and its management, and to work it into our routine.

Some people are more susceptible to stress than others. Even ordinary daily decisions seem insurmountable to them. For instance, deciding what to have for dinner or what to buy at the store can be a monumental dilemma. Others thrive under stress by becoming highly motivated, challenged and productive when driven by the force of pressure.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can take on many different forms, and can contribute to symptoms of illness. Below is a list of symptoms you may experience because of stress:

Physical symptoms

  1. Headaches (tension headaches)

  2. Indigestion

  3. Nausea

  4. Nervous diarrhoea

  5. Palpitations

  6. Breathlessness

  7. Tightness of chest

  8. Cold sweats

  9. Numbness of hands and feet

  10. Dry mouth

  11. Muscle twitches and strains

  12. Frequent infections such as flu and sore throat

Psychological symptoms

  1. Troubled sleep, including nightmares

  2. Poor concentration and memory problems

  3. Anxiety

  4. Indecisiveness

  5. Negative thoughts, even suicidal ones

Emotional symptoms

  1. Irritability

  2. Job dissatisfaction

  3. Despondency

  4. Suspiciousness

  5. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence

  6. Feeling helpless and hopeless

  7. Depression is the common pathway after prolonged periods of stress

Behavioural symptoms

  1. Poor appetite, resulting in weight loss

  2. Self-neglect

  3. Loss of interest in social activities

  4. Reckless driving and accidents

  5. Substance abuse e.g. cigarette smoking, drugs, excessive alcohol and coffee intake

Fortunately, stress can be minimised with proper stress management strategies. These strategies can help reduce your stress levels and prevent stress escalation.

What’s best is that most stress management strategies can also benefit your diabetes management. So it is a worthwhile effort as you can get “two (benefits) for the price of one (action)”!

Ref: Q15