Stress, Mindfulness, and Blood Glucose

The last couple of weeks have been high stress for me!

I started my 10-month dietetics practicum on Sept. 9th. The days leading into it I was a nervous ball of energy. No matter how much I had prepared for this, there were still so many unknowns, and huge amounts of pressure to do a great job and succeed, a lot of which was my own doing.

And then there was the uncertainty of my diabetes and how it would react.

Please note: it didn’t react well.

On my way to week 2 of practicum BG ridiculousness 🙁

Stress is an evil little bugger, especially for those of us with Dear Diabetes.

I spent more than a week with my stomach in knots. My brain felt as though it was in the midst of a fog full of information overload. And my blood sugars were on a nauseating, topsy-turvy rollercoaster.

Those fight or flight hormones, also known as epinephrine and cortisol, are predominantly to blame.

Stress activates epinephrine (adrenaline) and epinephrine activates cortisol, leading to:

  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased blood glucose
  • increased sweat gland activity

I hadn’t recently changed my insulin regime. I wasn’t in the midst of menstruation. I wasn’t doing anything different, except situating myself in a new environment.

And that means everything is different.

Case in point: I took a sandwich for lunch with me 2 days of the week. This sandwich was composed of 2 slices of multigrain bread, Dijon mustard, ham, cheese, arugula, tomato, cucumber, pepper, pickle, and avocado. I’d had this sandwich multiple times over the summer, with nary a bother. I knew the carb count. I knew how my body would react.

Yet, both days my blood sugars went through the roof.

What was the different?

The environment and the level of stress in my system.

And then, the fact that my blood sugars were increasing had me incessantly worrying about when, if and how they would come down, which added another layer to my stress levels further increasing the highs.

Pretty much, I was like a gerbil spinning the wheel of blood sugar ridiculousness.

And that’s just not cool.

This isn’t the first time I’ve battled the effects of stress on Dear Diabetes. I’ve encountered it at nearly every race or big sporting event I’ve participated in, as well as exams. Sometimes I win the slugfest; many times I lose.

So what can we do to alleviate stress when it comes to diabetes?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I personally try to alleviate it by trial and error, just like most things with type-1. If I remember, I write down the type of stress I endured and the effects it had on my blood glucose. I write down the increased temp. basals I employ (the last 2 weeks, I was averaging +75% for several hours in the day). I write down the foods I eat and whether or not I was active in any of those days. I write down the failings and the successes. And I keep it all in a notebook to draw on for a future date.

Another option: Mindfulness.

There have been studies to suggest that mindfulness can help manage stress in individuals with chronic disease like type-1 diabetes.

I have not tried this, but it is intriguing.

To be mindful is to be present.

To be mindful is to not ignore those feelings of nervous butterflies and flip-flop jitterbugs, but to embrace them.

To be mindful is to be aware.

After attending the No Limits with T1D Conference in Vancouver last weekend where Dr. Dzung X. Vo, a big proponent of mindfulness therapy for chronic illness, spoke, I started investigating mindfulness and stress management a little more.

I’m not yet ready to dive head first, but I am willing to give the breathing exercises a try the next time my body gets overwrought with worries.

How about you, have you tried mindfulness to manage stress and diabetes?

1. Bogusch, L. & O’Brien, W. (2018). The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on diabetes-related distress, quality of life, and metabolic control among persons with diabetes: a meta-analytic review. Behavioral Medicine, 45:1, 19 9, DOI: 10.1080/08964289.2018.1432549
2. VanSant-Smith, D. (2016). The psychosocial and physiological effects of teaching mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) to adolescents with type-1 diabetes. Nursing Research. 65(2), DOI: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000152.

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