Coping with Stress

Stress can play havoc with our lives. And it can play havoc with diabetes as well. Stress from outside sources may be reduced, by making changes either at the source of the stress, or in the way we cope with the problem. Of course dealing with diabetes on a daily basis can in itself be stressful, especially if things aren’t running smoothly in the ‘control department’.

What’s covered on this page

Recognising stress

It’s a stressful life
Stress and hypoglycaemia
Are you stressed?

Dealing with stress

Stress-busting tips
Reducing the stress; what else can you do about stress?


Recognising stress

It’s a Stressful Life

Most of us suffer from stress at some stage in our lives. It often comes hand in hand with financial difficulties, losing your job, pressure at work, moving house, coping with young children, problems within personal relationships or the loss of a friend or relative.

This type of stress often causes irritability, headaches and problems sleeping. More seriously, stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and ulcers.

The mere fact of having to deal with diabetes in your life can be stressful in itself, especially if you’re still learning how to cope with it.

People with diabetes often find that stress raises the blood glucose level; this is due to an increased production of hormones such as cortisol, which tend to reduce insulin action.

If you are under stress you might find that looking after your diabetes becomes less of a priority and this can worsen the situation.

Some people have a tendency to turn to food during stressful times. Others may lose their appetite. In addition, when life is hectic, regular meals and healthy eating are often abandoned in favour of convenience foods. Any changes to your eating patterns will have an effect on your blood glucose levels and this is another way in which stress can have a knock-on effect on your diabetes control.

As a person with diabetes it is important that you realise the potential effects of stress on your health and take steps to reduce the level of stress in your life where possible.


Stress and hypoglycaemia

Acute stress can evoke some of the symptoms of a low blood glucose level and sometimes an anxiety attack can be mistaken for a hypo. If in doubt, test your blood glucose level before treating it.

Some people with diabetes find that some types of stress actually tend to lower the blood glucose level. This may also happen if you are not eating properly or keeping to your usual mealtimes.


Dealing with stress

If stress is affecting your life you should contact your diabetes care team. They will be able to offer advice specific to you and your diabetes. It is possible that some lifestyle changes may be recommended. You might benefit from complementary therapy such as acupuncture or aromatherapy – your GP should be able to advise you on this.


Stress-busting tips

Here are some simple stress-busting tips:

  • Try to take some time to yourself every day.
  • Remember to get as much fresh air as possible during the day.
  • Engage in regular physical activity – it will help you to relax and to sleep; it will also help make you feel more on top of things.
  • Try breathing exercises or meditation.
  • There are now many relaxation tapes and CDs available. Try listening to these on a personal stereo, whilst walking, for example.
  • A long hot bath can help you unwind.
  • Yoga and meditation are also powerful relaxation techniques.
  • Avoid excess alcohol.
  • Never underestimate the power of laughter!
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking time out to watch your favourite comedy programme on TV, think of it as therapy.
Make sure you get a good nights sleep:

  • Try listening to soothing music before going to sleep at night.
  • Don’t take work to bed with you.
  • Try a few drops of lavender essence your pillow.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day, it’s a potent stimulant. Remember it’s not just tea and coffee you should avoid; carbonated drinks such as Diet Coke are high in caffeine too.
  • Don’t eat a large meal late in the evening – this will get your metabolism going when you really want it to be slowing down.


Reducing the stress;

What else can you do about stress?

To a large degree our stress level actually depends on how we deal with situations that we are faced with. Simple lifestyle changes can help reduce or avoid the suffering that stress can cause. Eat sensibly, exercise regularly, give up smoking, give yourself some ‘quality time’ and you’re well on the way to combating stress.


Put things into perspective. What is more important, painting the ceiling tonight or doing the tax return? Make a list of priorities and try to stick to it – even if it means that something you keep putting off or don’t want to do is top of your list.

Set yourself realistic goals and reward yourself for achievements. It is all too easy to impose unrealistic targets on oneself, then feel a failure because the goals that you set are never reached.

Take care of yourself

Looking after your body is a good way of valuing yourself. Forget about your responsibilities to others and take time for yourself: put on your favourite music, or have a long soak in the bath.

Respect yourself

Respect yourself, and others will respect you too. If things are getting on top of you then don’t be too proud to ask for help. Speak out calmly – without demanding or apologising.

Control your breathing

Focusing on your breathing is a good way to combat the affects of stress and lower your heart rate. Use it when you get stressed at traffic lights or in a supermarket queue. Aim for about 12 breaths per minute. Breathe in and out through your nose slowly and on the “in” breath let your stomach swell (this may take some practice). Take longer on the “out” breath.

Face your fears

Avoiding or denying your fears may be even more difficult for you than dealing with your worries.

Say “No!”

If you are overloaded and you find saying “no” difficult, ask yourself why. Maybe you fear that no one will like or respect you for it. Yet reason seems to tell you that you’re doing enough, too much even. Trust your own instincts. Don’t make up excuses or give long explanations – you don’t always have to justify why you can’t do something.

Say “Yes!”

When someone offers to help, accept it. Otherwise colleagues or family might actually think that you enjoy doing everything!

Build up your self-confidence

Acknowledge and praise yourself when you have done something well. Accept that we all make mistakes – how else can we learn and grow? Aim for a balance; you will find that you work more effectively if you get a balance between work, exercise, socialising and quiet time.


Physical activity allows the body to “burn off’ the excess adrenaline we produce when we are stressed. It sweats out toxins and our bodies produce natural anti-depressant and “happy hormones”. Go for a brisk walk or join a fitness class as this offers opportunities for you to feel better and meet new friends.


We are basically social creatures – so try to arrange to have something to look forward to every day. The anticipation of something pleasurable can motivate us to get through our work more effectively.


Whether it’s hill walking, a trip to the coast or shopping for groceries, it is essential to plan. Ten minutes spent making a list of essential kit or the ingredients for tonight’s dinner will save time and panic.

Relax with imagery

Clear your mind of anxieties and focus on peace and tranquillity. Visualise a place where you are happy and content – this may be your own sitting room, a beach, a meadow by a river or somewhere hot. Close your eyes and establish regular, gentle breathing. Visualise your scene.

Using all your senses, slowly go through what you can see, what you can hear, what you can smell and what you can touch. Hold the image. When you want to leave, breathe deeply and slowly and count from one to three, reaching full alertness but maintaining a relaxed state.