Minor Ups and Downs: Diabetes Stress

A few months ago, I used the story of the Apollo 13 mission (the one that suffered a catastrophic explosion 200,000 miles from Earth and managed to return home against incredible odds) to talk about overcoming adversity. I was using the story to give an example of how we can respond to high-stress incidents like very high numbers with a sense of calm even when it might feel like things are falling apart. I was focused on that BIG disaster of the story. But then in the comments section of that blog, Diabetes Self-Management‘s own David Spero pointed out something else about that mission — that the astronauts had to make countless course corrections throughout the journey, well before the emergency threw them into serious jeopardy.

His point, and it was a great one, was that it’s not as if the mission were completely on course with no missteps before disaster struck. Indeed, none of the moon missions were like that. Each journey was “Whoops, a little too far left here… Whoops, a little off course there… Whoops…”. It was never a straight line from here to there, and even with a ground crew made up of some of the brightest minds on the planet guiding the mission, little mistakes and deviations were still the norm.

Advertisement

In dealing with diabetes, it’s easy for us to focus on those dramatic moments of very high numbers or severe hypoglycemia. And certainly those moments stand out as the most stressful, but David’s comment reminds us that the small fluctuations we experience can cause us stress, too. That is, if we let them. And I think a lot of us do let those moments cause undue stress.

I think the stress comes when we fall into the trap of expecting a straight line, expecting perfection. Diabetes, even when it’s behaving really well, never moves in a straight line. And that’s something I’ve talked about plenty in this blog, but what I’m talking about here is our tendency to expect a straight line, to expect perfection. Consciously, we all know blood sugars will fluctuate, but there’s a deeply ingrained human need for predictability and stability. And when we’re not careful, even those minor ups and downs can trigger stress.

The good news in all of this is that dealing with this stress is relatively easy. After all, we’re not talking about handling the really big issues here, just the ups and downs of a basically healthy blood sugar pattern. The most important thing is really just to remember that those fluctuations can cause stress. It’s such low-grade stress that it’s easy to not notice it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect on us. Even very low-grade chronic stress can give us problems.

So keeping a “finger on the pulse” of our stress is what’s called for. But it can be a double-edged sword: Constantly worrying about stress obviously helps nothing — it just compounds whatever stress is already there. Instead, what we need is an embodied awareness of how our system is responding moment-to-moment. It’s a soft focus, very much like the kind of focus we give our breathing when we meditate. In fact, it’s exactly the same kind of focus. It’s a matter of simply noticing and identifying our stress responses, not trying to “get rid of them,” or even change them.

Those minor fluctuations can really throw our equilibrium, but only if we let them. So cultivate that soft focus, that meditative awareness, and see what you notice. See if you find your feeling of calm and your sense of peace strengthening little by little.

Can blood sugar monitoring benefit people with Type 2 diabetes, even if they aren’t taking insulin? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn what a new study has found.