StayWell Guam Inc.
Control Stress, Control Diabetes
November 9, 2022
The holiday season is upon us and 2022 is looking to be as close to a ‘normal’ Guam holiday than we have had in three years. Truly, the hustle and bustle of a traditional island holiday is underway and we have a lot to be thankful for such as the near end of a rather traumatic global pandemic. Hopefully, you’ll hug your family and friends just a bit tighter knowing that we are very much closer to how things were before COVID-19.
As is every holiday season, we kick things off with Thanksgiving where we gather around some of our favorite island dishes to give thanks for our good health and good fortunes throughout the year. However, let’s not forget that November is also Diabetes Awareness Month. Given the way we happily pile up our fiesta plates starting from November to December, awareness on diabetes becomes all the more urgent as we descend upon the numerous dinner tables to harken the season. Is it any coincidence that the holiday almost entirely centered around food falls within the same month where we remind ourselves of the very real dangers of diabetes? I think not!
This Diabetes Awareness Month we want to focus on one of the lesser known, less discussed parts of Diabetes management and prevention which is stress. So, kick back, relax, and take a load off this holiday season to get your diabetes under control.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s physical and emotional reaction to challenges in life. Underneath the outward display that you might exhibit due to stress there are a number of chemical reactions within the body that the body uses in defense of itself. This bodily response is referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. Typically, you’ll experience an increase in heart rate, breathing and blood pressure as your muscles tense and even sweat more. This is caused by stress hormones that are pumped into the bloodstream that is meant to move blood away from the skin and toward vital organs like the heart and muscles. This often leads to the cold feeling one might experience with a stress response.
Cortisol, one of the stress hormones, shuts down the stomach and won’t let food digest while at the same time putting making the digestive tract more active which can lead to nausea. Meanwhile stress hormones speed up the flow of blood by 300-400 percent — the cause for the increased heart rate. In addition, hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine which are hormones that give the body energy continue to be produced in the body and block out the sleep hormone serotonin which can cause sleeplessness.
These same stress hormones can also affect short-term memory so that the mind can focus on the danger or challenge it is facing and signals the brain to store the memory of the stressor in your long-term memory. This is the body’s way of familiarizing the danger for the future and knowing how to react appropriately. However, while this is occurring the increased blood flow and chemicals into the brain paired with chemical messengers that cause the blood vessels to constrict can cause headaches and are a common symptom of chronic stress.
Stress and Diabetes
Stress control is perhaps one of the hottest topics in chronic disease management as of late, and that’s for a good reason as the CDC has noted that stress affects blood sugar levels. If you’re stressed chances are you’re not taking as good care of yourself as you normally would so this contributes to the many lifestyle factors that lead to the onset of both Type I and Type II diabetes. However, even deeper than this is the fact that stress hormones make blood sugar rise and or fall unpredictably. Meanwhile, the symptoms of chronic stress are also symptoms that contribute to the onset of diabetes such as lack of sleep, high blood pressure, and disruption to the digestive system. Thus, being stressed for a long time can contribute to diabetes and as well impact those who may be managing the disease currently.
Anxiety — feelings of worry, fear, or being on edge — is your body’s reaction to stress and people living with diabetes are 20% more likely than those without diabetes to have anxiety at some point in their life according to the CDC. Part of this could also be due to the long-term management of diabetes which is why mental health is an important part of chronic disease management. Depression and other mental health issues related to Diabetes management is known as Diabetes Distress and affects some 50% of people with diabetes.
Just as the human body has a stress response to react to certain dangers or long-term challenges it also has a “stress-reset button” or a relaxation response. The relaxation response is essentially a reversal of the same symptoms a person might experience during the body’s stress response. Specifically, the relaxation response is known to decrease heart rate, blood pressure, inflammatory cytokines, elevated blood glucose, oxidative stress, stress hormones and muscle tension. This is especially handy considering that there is no known cure or drug that can effectively reduce the symptoms of stress. Thank goodness our bodies have their very own cure and health science has broken the key to the relaxation response into three simple steps: Slow, Deep breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Mindfulness. These three methods combined can trigger the body’s relaxation response and also help you to get your stress under control.
Slow, Deep Breathing
For deep breathing exercises, take a few slow deep breaths, letting your abdomen expand as you fill up your lungs, then breathe out slowly and completely. Notice where you may be holding some tension — throat, shoulders, chest — and relax so that each breath becomes slower and deeper.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique involves relaxing different muscles in your body, progressing from your head to toe, or toe to head. Briefly contracting each muscle before relaxing it can help you feel which muscle is tense. At the same time take deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
For a mindfulness exercise, focus on being aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment — sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch. Mindful body scan practice involves focusing attention on different parts of your body and their sensations in a gradual sequence. You can combine mindfulness with the other muscle relaxation and breathing techniques.
Well Minds are Well Bodies
Pressing reset on stress takes just a few minutes and can be done almost anywhere. However, the most important takeaway from examining the link between stress and diabetes is to be mindful of your stress and how it can affect your health in the long term. Especially during the holiday season, it can be quite easy to neglect your mental health, after all it is probably the most important and eventful part of the year for our island community. Amongst the numerous parties, events, get-togethers and gatherings it’s likely that tempers may rise at least once or twice as we all do our absolute best for our loved ones and for our community. Let us do right by everyone this holiday season by not only taking care of those whom we love but also taking care of ourselves both physically and mentally.