Diabetes can stress you in many ways. It can make you fear the future and struggle with the present. Being anxious about diabetes doesn’t do any good, though.
The stress response creates hormones that raise your blood sugar and blood pressure. Anxiety interferes with sleep and drives you to unhealthy behaviors.
Registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Amy Campbell wrote here that you might be stressed if you:
• Feel “tense” in your muscles, including those in your shoulders, lower back, neck, and jaw
• Have a headache or a stomachache
• Feel irritable, grumpy, or angry
• Have a fast heartbeat
• Don’t sleep well
• Get sick often
Also, when your sugars are higher than they should be and you can’t think why, it might be anxiety speaking. Scott Coulter writes here about how he proved this with his glucose monitor.
Well, then, how do you cope with anxiety and stress of diabetes? Some ideas:
Fear of complications. Hearing about heart attacks, strokes, foot damage, sexual problems, and other complications of diabetes, who wouldn’t be anxious? But these complications can all be prevented by controlling blood sugar and blood pressure.
One way to reduce fear of complications is to learn more about them. How high is the risk, really, and how can you lower your risk? It’s probably easier than you think. Did you know rates of diabetes-related lower-leg amputations, end-stage kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, and deaths due to high blood sugar have been going down steadily for about 20 years now?
Remember also that even if you do develop a complication, life will go on. Why let things that haven’t happened yet ruin the life you’re having now? Living in the future is always scary. Stay in the present
Self-management. “Am I doing well enough?” “Why did I eat that cookie?” The key here is to avoid perfectionism. You cannot and will not manage perfectly, and you don’t have to. If you try to, you will raise your anxiety level and your blood sugars.
Hopefully, you know not to freak out when you get a high result on your monitor or a lab test. Think of diabetes management as a continuous scientific experiment on yourself. It’s all a learning opportunity. If things aren’t going as they should, find out why with testing and by asking for help from professionals or other people with diabetes.
Financial worries. Diabetes costs money and can cut into your earning power, and there’s no stress like economic stress. Here it helps to have some faith that the world will provide, but it’s also very good to find ways to lower expenses for medicine, supplies, and everything else. We wrote about cutting expenses and making more money by monetizing your life, working in an office, working from home, and getting disability pay.
Changed relationships. Diabetes can affect how you get along with your family and your work. You might be nervous about losing your job or feeling more distant from your partner.
It’s normal to feel anxious about crucial relationships, but getting stressed won’t help. The best thing might be to get some help — seek advice from a trusted friend or a professional, and talk things over with your loved ones. Or read an article like “Diabetes and Your Marriage: Making Things Work.”
For work issues, you might want to consult resources on working with diabetes from the American Diabetes Association.
Ways to reduce anxiety
People get anxious about lots of things besides diabetes. Fortunately, we’ve developed ways to cope with anxiety and reduce it.
Do things you like; avoid things you don’t. If you hate driving, take the bus. If you hate the bus, drive or take an Uber ride or walk or ride a bike.
Focus on the positive. Amy Campbell suggests, if you’re stuck in traffic, turn on an audio book or some good music and enjoy the break. Don’t worry about being late.
Try mindfulness or meditation. Remember, now is almost always OK. It’s living in the past that makes us sad or the future that makes us anxious. Focus on your breathing or different parts of your body. Listen to a relaxation tape. Take a meditation class and/or pray.
When “have-tos” pile up, make a list. For some people — I’m one of them — writing chores down takes a lot of pressure off. Makes me feel like I’m halfway to doing them.
Learn the “magic word.” As a child, you probably learned the magic word “please.” Now learn the adult magic word, “no.” Just because someone asks you something or offers you something, doesn’t mean you have to take it. Many of us learned that saying no would hurt people or make them angry. It usually doesn’t. If the person is your boss, though, you might have to be careful with this.
Learn the magic phrase. “Thank you.” Thank people you know, people you don’t know, the animals and plants, the Earth, the sun, and God for making your life as good as it is. Gratitude is the opposite of stress.
Learn another magic phrase. “Could you help me with this?” I think of asking for help as my superpower. I can’t get out of my wheelchair, but I can still move furniture. How? By asking someone.
Engage in physical activity or exercise. Moving your body makes you feel better and discharges extra energy.
Have fun. Listen to music or watch a movie that makes you laugh. Visit with a pet or a child. Garden or do some other hobby you like.
Last but not least. Sleep! It’s great medicine. If sleeping is hard for you, get some tips from our articles “Sleep for Diabetes” and “Getting to Sleep and Staying There.”