The holiday season is nearly upon us, and it is a stressful time for many. You may be surprised to learn that stress can contribute to poor blood glucose control, in specifically Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. Often we cope with the seasonal stress by eating, drinking, watching TV and shopping. These coping techniques, as well as the excess of parties, cocktails, desserts and candy this time of year can also make managing blood glucose a challenge.
What is stress? Stress can include physiologic or psychologic response to external stimuli, or stressful events themselves. This can be further individualized to what may trigger a response or be classified as a stressful event by each person. Your perceived stressors may be different from your best friend’s or mother’s. Being able to acknowledge this when you are feeling stressed or someone close to you is experiencing stress is very helpful in the adaptation and management of stress.
Our understanding of the impact of acute and chronic stress on health is continuously developing. What we do know is that stressors trigger the nervous system to prepare other systems to take action. This includes triggering the hypothalamic- pituitary- adrenal axis which is part of the neuroendocrine system. When under stress the hypothalamus receives a signal to trigger the pituitary to release hormones that stimulate the adrenal glands to release hormones, including cortisol. The release of cortisol then tells your body to breakdown carbohydrate, lipid and protein stores ultimately increasing energy in the form of blood glucose. Our bodies are programmed this way so that we can run from the bear or survive in times of famine. However, with repeated stressors that don’t actually require that extra energy you can see how it ultimately leads to increasing blood glucose and difficulty managing diabetes especially if one is deep in the holiday lifestyle.
The first step is adjusting your awareness to acknowledge when you are having a stress response. Next consider how you can decrease the stress response. Learning how to minimize those stressful encounters or improve your management techniques can lead to better managed stress response and improved glucose management. Consider these options when adapting to stress:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Mind-body practices such as biofeedback or neurofeedback such as NeurOptimal
- Yoga, Tai Qi or Qi gong
- Incorporating regular exercise
- Spending time outdoors
- Breathing practices
- Optimizing sleep
- Massage therapy
These suggestions pair nicely with other specific lifestyle and nutritional recommendations to manage Type 2 diabetes. Remember to minimize holiday treats and take time for yourself daily, especially during stressful times. This can improve your health mentally and physically.
As naturopathic physicians, we incorporate stress management techniques into patient care as foundations of health. Consider looking online for demonstrations or videos of how to practice these techniques, many are do-it-yourself and can be tailored to your busy life and needs. So this year as we move into the holiday season, implementing sustainable stress management techniques may be beneficial for your stress as well as your blood glucose.