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Stress and Diabetes - How Stress Affects Blood Sugar

The Hidden Effects of Stress on Diabetes


Updated May 13, 2014

Stress and high blood sugar may not seem connected, but they are. Your ability to manage stress plays a big role in your overall diabetes management plan.

Sources of Stress

Our stress comes from two main places: external sources, such as demanding jobs, problematic relationships and financial problems; and internal sources: how we perceive and respond to these and other events. Let’s take a closer look at both and see how these affect your ability to manage diabetes.

The Connection Between Stress and Blood Sugar

When you are under stress, your body works overtime to help you cope. One of the ways it does this is to release hormones, such as epinephrine and adrenaline, both which give you added energy and concentration. But, in addition to the hormones, your body also releases glucose (sugar) from your liver, muscles and stored fat reserves. This bodily response to stress is called the “fight or flight” response. For example, if you needed to fight off or run away from a snarling dog, these hormones and extra glucose would give you an enhanced ability to do so. In the process of running or fighting the dog you would use up the hormones and glucose and your body would quickly regain an internal balance.

Chronic Stress

But short, acute situations like the dog scenario are not our main source of stress. The stress that plagues most of us is chronic stress; the kind that goes on for days and weeks. The same “fight or flight” stress response occurs with chronic stress as in acute stress. The difference is that we keep it turned on perpetually for long periods of time because we feel an ongoing anxiety about our finances, jobs, health and people we love. Chronic stress is not healthy for anyone but it is especially troublesome for people with diabetes because you do not need the additional glucose being continually released into your bloodstream. This glucose is in addition to what you take in from food.

Learn to Control What You Can

It’s not realistic to think you can avoid stress completely. There are some things over which you don’t have complete control: roofs occasionally leak, jobs can be a hassle, relationships can end and investments sometimes go down in value. Worrying about things you have no or limited control over is not your best strategy for your overall health or for managing your diabetes. Instead, focus on managing your response to these kinds of events. You have the ability to control your attitude, help calm your bodily reactions to stress and make sound choices. The goal is to mobilize the available resources to help you cope with stress in a healthy manner.

In part two of this article, learn practical ways you can better manage your stress and in turn keep your blood sugar from being perpetually high during times of stress.


Diabetes and Stress. Islets of Hope. Accessed January 8, 2009. http://www.isletsofhope.com/diabetes/mental-health/stress_management_1.html

Stress. American Diabetes Association. Accessed January 8, 2009. http://www.diabetes.org/type-1-diabetes/stress.jsp

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