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Examining the Relationship Between Stress & Diabetes

By Kristy Warren

People managing a chronic condition like diabetes are more prone to negative impacts from stress—and diabetes itself can become a source of long-term stress. Learn about the impact diabetes has on our mental health and how to overcome it.

When we think diabetes, we may think about glucose monitors, A1C levels, and insulin. About pricking our fingers or what’s on our plate. But when we’re focusing on physical health by maintaining our sugar levels all day, every day, our mental health can take a hit, too.

What causes stress?

Stress can come from many sources, both physical and mental. It is our body’s reaction to a perceived physical or emotional threat. Stress can be prompted by dangerous situations, hectic commutes, big projects, difficult relationships, demanding jobs, ongoing worries about our health and finances, injuries, or illness. 

Stress: Good or Bad?

We all get stressed out now and again—but it’s not all created equal. Some stress can help us perform better. The short-term stress experienced preparing for a project can drive us to finish before a deadline. Other types of stress, particularly reoccurring or long-term stress, such as a toxic work environment or financial struggles, can have negative impacts on our health.

How Stress Impacts Diabetes

Stress is tied to our “fight or flight” response. When we experience stress, our body and mind go into high alert to better handle the stressful situation, releasing hormones like cortisol. These hormones are intended to give us a short-term boost in dealing with the challenge. Cortisol makes our heart beat faster, our breathing speed up, and signals that we need to tap our energy stores.

In people with diabetes, this “fight or flight” response does not function as well; insulin issues can keep glucose and fat reserves from transferring successfully into our cells to be used as extra energy. When they aren’t properly absorbed, this can cause them to build up in the blood instead, driving up blood sugar levels and stashing fat into long-term storage.

Diabetes Distress

The stress of managing diabetes can lead to a condition known as diabetes distress. Diabetes-related distress encompasses many feelings and responses related to living with and treating the condition—from anxiety over what the future holds to fear surrounding diabetic complications to feeling depressed or discouraged when goals are not met.

When balancing a chronic condition like diabetes on top of life’s daily stressors, it’s an easy recipe for burnout. It can leave us feeling overwhelmed and worn out to the point that we may feel unable to think about, engage with others, or manage our condition.

A Helping Hand

If you or your loved ones are feeling stressed or distressed over diabetes, seeking professional help can lighten the load.

Laurel Behavioral Health offers a wide array of dedicated, experienced therapists, and the Laurel Health Centers offer a comprehensive diabetes education and management program for people of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay.

These programs offer confidential counseling, medical nutrition therapy, one-on-one education, diabetes self-management training, including injection and blood glucose meter training, and optional group classes to foster a sense of community and encouragement.

To learn more about our diabetes program, call 1-833-LAURELHC, and ask for Jessica Monger, certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian. To reach our Laurel Behavioral Health experts, call 570-723-0620. 


Tips for Taming Stress

  • Name what stresses you out: Identifying your stress triggers is the first step in managing your stress—reflect on what stresses you out and dig deeper to the underlying “whys.” Knowing your triggers helps you head stress off at the pass.

  • Breathe: Not everyone can meditate, but we can all take a moment to breathe. A few minutes of slow breathing can make you feel more centered and clear your mind.

  • Take a timeout: When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, step back and take a moment for yourself. Pause. Give yourself space to reflect, then ask yourself if this is a big or small problem, how much it will matter in a year, and recalibrate your plan of attack accordingly.

  • Reframe situations: Finding the positive in a stressful situation can be hard, but looking for something good in the bad can help you keep a brighter outlook and stay focused on what matters most to you.

  • Find the right coping tools: Sample a few different ways to relax and unwind to discover what works for you. Whether it’s comedy, music, cooking, reading, running, dancing, warm baths, or a little quiet time, finding the right coping mechanism means you’re more likely to stick to it.

  • See a professional: Managing diabetes can be draining, and sometimes, it’s too much to handle on our own. If you need support, consider making an appointment with the Laurel Health Centers’ certified diabetes educator or one of our Laurel Behavioral Health therapists. Together, we can create a treatment plan to better manage your diabetes and stress.

For more information on our diabetes program, behavioral health clinic, or coping tools, call 1-833-LAURELHC (1-833-528-7354), or click here to visit our Laurel Health services page.