Exercise. Regular physical activity and exercise can be helpful in reducing stress over the long term, and for people with diabetes, the benefits of regular exercise can include improvements in blood glucose control. However, if you don’t currently exercise, it is important to check with your health-care team before you start to discuss which activities are safe for you and whether you should have a stress test or any other form of medical evaluation before you start. Once you begin, it’s important to increase your level of physical activity gradually.
Many people use more than one of these strategies to cope with stress. However, if you currently use none of the strategies listed here, it’s best to try one or two at a time and to give yourself some time to incorporate them into your usual routine. Taking on too much at once, even positive behaviors, can increase stress rather than reduce it.
When considering which strategies might help you cope with stress, it’s also worth considering what will not help. Avoid coping with stress by overeating, using tobacco products or recreational drugs, or abusing alcohol. Overeating can lead to feelings of guilt and low self-esteem and can affect blood glucose control. Abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can lead to chronic dependence on these substances and create additional physical as well as mental stressors.
Need help coping?
Although many of the coping strategies described here could be called self-help strategies, there’s no need to feel you have to locate these sources of help all by yourself or make use of them alone. Members of your diabetes team, for example, may be able to connect you to resources such as diabetes education opportunities or support groups in your community. They may also have suggestions for where to find classes in relaxation techniques or exercise programs for people at your level of physical fitness. Engaging in relaxation exercises and physical activity as part of a group often makes it easier to stick with these types of activities.
There may be times when self-help strategies aren’t enough. If you continue to feel stressed in spite of using positive coping strategies, talk with your diabetes care team about the possibility of seeing a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. You may actually be depressed, and if that is the case, you may not be able to feel significantly better without professional help. (See “Symptoms of Depression.”) Depression is common among people with diabetes and among people living with other chronic health conditions. Although there’s no sure-fire remedy for depression, both psychotherapy and antidepressant drugs have been found to be effective treatments.
Feeling extremely stressed or anxious in spite of self-help measures can also be a sign of an anxiety disorder. If your life is being disrupted by an irrational dread of everyday situations, obsessive thoughts, or panic attacks, it’s worth seeking out professional help. Treatment for anxiety disorders is similar to treatment for depression.
In life, stress is inevitable. However, recognizing stressors, keeping a close check on your blood glucose control during stressful situations, and finding positive ways to cope will likely help you to find some peace amid the storm.