By Sara S. Lasker, MEd, MCHES, Diabetes Educator, Diabetes Care Team
WHAT IS STRESS
Stress is a physical and mental reaction to perceived danger. Conditions that seem uncontrollable or require emotional and behavioral change tend to be perceived as a threat. When the body and mind sense a threat, they get ready for fight or flight. Whether the threat is real or imagined, the body prepares for survival by turning up some bodily functions while turning others down.
SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Changes in appetite (eating more or less)
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Frequent bouts of crying
- Trouble with memory and/or concentration
- Anxious thoughts (often taking the form of “what if ____________ happens?”)
- Muscle tension (that ache in your neck)
- Feeling down or depressed
- Being easily angered or being angry a lot of the time.
- Stomach problems (vomiting, nausea, stomachaches, diarrhea or constipation)
- Loss of interest in sex
- Avoidance of work or school tasks and/or difficulty completing them
- A change in relationships (either avoiding or feeling the need to seek out the company of others more than usual)
- Feeling your heart beating (often when trying to fall asleep)
- Difficulty swallowing or feeling as though you are choking
- Trembling or shakiness
- Feeling faint
- Profuse sweating
- Teeth grinding
- Feeling uneasy or on edge
THE EFFECT OF STRESS ON DIABETES
During this time of year our stress levels are up and our anxiety is higher. Excessive stress is a major barrier to effective glucose control. The food eaten gets digested and broken down into a sugar the body’s cells can use. This is glucose, one of the simplest forms of sugar.
However, excessive stress works against diabetes management by increasing blood glucose levels quickly. Additionally strong negative emotions impair sound thinking and decision-making thus, tempting compulsive, poor eating and derailment from healthy choices.
SIMPLE WAY TO REDUCE STRESS
By taking a few minutes to relax and breathe it can help put you in the right mindset to handle the hustle of the holiday season. It also helps to reduce stress and promote good mental and physical health. We all begin life breathing correctly. Just watch a baby’s natural, full breathing. The stomach moves up and down. The chest cavity hardly moves at all. Most adults however, do not breathe this way. Adults usually use only their chest muscles for breathing. If you learn to breathe correctly, you can use breathing exercises to reduce your stress. A breathing exercise takes only a few minutes and can be done anywhere including at your desk or seated in a quiet place. Just remember to avoid doing breathing exercises right after you have eaten as it could interfere with your digestive process.
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. You can keep your eyes open or close them.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest should move slightly.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.
- Start breathing easily and naturally through your nose, concentrating on filling your stomach with each breath.
- Continue to do this for about 5 minutes.
- Gradually open your eyes if you have closed them.
- Sit quietly for another minute or two before continuing with your tasks.
Take care of yourself, and your diabetes, during this holiday season by taking time to breathe!
*SOURCE: American Diabetes Association and Using Breathing Exercise to Reduce Stress.