However, some chronic stressors, even if they can be identified, can’t be removed or quickly remedied. Diabetes and many other chronic illnesses, for example, never go away. If you are mourning a loss, there’s really no way to speed up the grief process. In cases like these, it’s important to both accept that the situation may not be changeable, at least not immediately, and to look for positive ways to manage the stress so that life can go on in spite of it. Many strategies and techniques can help people deal with chronic stressors, including the following:
Support groups. Support groups can offer both emotional and practical support to people dealing with a common issue or problem. Many communities, for example, have diabetes support groups. Support groups also exist for those coping with grief, debt, overweight, and many other health and social problems. In addition to in-person support groups, there are many online support groups, which can have many of the same benefits.
Before you join any support group, find out how it operates and what the ground rules are. Make sure that what is said in the group remains confidential and that members do not attempt to dispense medical advice or sell products. Seek out support groups that are affiliated with a reputable institution or association. If you want to participate in an online group, keep your personal safety in mind, and don’t give out identifying information or join groups that pressure you for money.
Education. Lacking the basic information and skills you need to manage your diabetes can cause you to feel stressed, and getting the information and training you need can reduce those feelings. There are many ways to learn more about diabetes and its management, including asking questions during appointments with your health-care providers, reading publications such as this one, and attending diabetes education sessions. One way to find out about diabetes education opportunities in your area is to call the American Diabetes Association (ADA) at (800) 342-2383 or to look on the ADA’s Web site, www.diabetes.org. Click on “In My Community” to find a list of ADA-recognized education programs. Medicare and some health insurance plans cover a certain number of hours of diabetes self-management education and training per year. It may be worth it to find out if your insurance plan has such a benefit.
Relaxation techniques. Certain relaxation techniques can help with both mental and physical stress by slowing your respiration rate, lowering blood pressure, relieving muscle tension, and “quieting” the mind. Examples of such techniques include massage, deep breathing exercises, some kinds of yoga, and meditation. When performed regularly, these practices can help you react less strongly to acute stresses, such as getting cut off in traffic, as well as improve your ability to deal with long-term stresses, such as having diabetes.
Spiritual support. Many people find that their spiritual commitment can be a positive influence in helping to weather the storm of stress. Prayer may offer a coping strategy that is emotionally healing. Trained clergy can also provide support during times of stress and offer guidance for dealing with chronic sources of stress.
Humor. Seeking out books, movies, or activities that make you smile or laugh may be helpful to decrease tension and improve your outlook. In addition to laughter’s psychological benefits, some research suggests that it has physiological effects on the body, including decreasing the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) and increasing endorphins (natural substances that alter perception and reaction to pain), that may help with stress.
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.