COVID-19, inflation, gas prices, instability throughout the world … all of these factors are enough to add another layer of stress to our lives. And that’s on top of dealing with everyday stressors, such as work, family life, finances, and living with diabetes.
Everyone has stress in their lives in one form or another. If you have diabetes, though, dealing with stress is extra important. That’s because the body makes stress hormones when you’re under stress, and these hormones can cause your blood sugars to go up, says the American Diabetes Association. Besides your blood sugars, stress increases blood pressure and raises your heart rate. Constant stress can wear you down and make you feel tired and less motivated to do things to take care of yourself, such as eating healthy and being active. Stress can affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
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Ways to de-stress
Sometimes the thought of trying to manage or reduce stress can add to your stress. How can you de-stress when you’re working long hours or caring for a family or older parent? The easy ways out are to binge-watch your favorite shows, munch away on unhealthy foods, or turn to alcohol or drugs to help you cope. But are there safe, easy, and effective ways to ward off stress? Yes! But remember to keep an open mind and try different ways to find what works for you. Here’s how:
Sometimes called the 1:2 breathing pattern, this practice helps to calm your nervous system. To do this, your exhalation (breathing out) should be twice as long as your inhalation (breathing in). For example, breathe in for five seconds and exhale for 10 seconds. Repeat this for three to five minutes.
Listen to music
The ASCAP Wellness Program recommends music as a way to “help keep stress and anxiety in check.” When we listen to or play music, we feel calmer and cortisol (stress hormone) levels drop. Plus, music releases dopamine, a brain chemical that is linked with reward and motivation. If you’re feeling stressed, listening to slow music can help slow and calm you down.
Try a “digital detox”
Many of us are using our smartphones all day long — for work, to catch up on email, to check in via social media, and for texting. Later, we might play a video game or glue ourselves to the television to catch up on news or a favorite show. Taking a break from technology and truly “unplugging,” at least for a while, helps your brain and your body recover and rejuvenate. The goal isn’t to do away with technology altogether, but rather, take a break from it. Use the technology-free time to eat dinner with your partner or family, go for a walk, or even call up a friend you haven’t talked with for a while.
Shifting negative thoughts to positive ones can lessen feelings of stress. One way to cultivate more positive thoughts is to express your gratitude and remind yourself of the good things in your life. Some people do this by keeping a gratitude journal; you can easily do this by listing things out on a piece of paper or even verbally sharing with a loved one those things that you are thankful for at any given time. Research on gratitude shows that, after 10 weeks, people who wrote about gratitude felt more optimistic and better about their lives compared with people who wrote down things that irritated them.
Have a cup of hot tea
The act of taking time to prepare a cup of tea and slow down for a bit can help relieve stress and anxiety. And the warmth from the hot liquid is soothing and calming, too. To lessen the effects of caffeine, try a caffeine-free herbal tea. Good choices, according to the website artfultea.com include mint tea, chamomile tea, lavender tea, and rose tea.
Go for a walk
It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but getting up and going for a walk helps to boost endorphins, those “feel good” chemicals, and gets you out of a stressful environment. A brisk walk can invigorate you, but even a leisurely stroll can promote relaxation. In one study, participants who paid attention to their footsteps by counting “one, two, one, two” and pictured the numbers in their minds as they walked reported a decrease in anxiety and fewer negative thoughts — even after just one walking session!
Give your hands a well-deserved massage
If no one is around to give you a shoulder rub, give your hands some TLC, instead. A hand massage helps to relieve tension and pain, and promotes relaxation. And your hands may need a much-needed break from the computer or the steering wheel. For guidance on how to massage your hands, visit the Well + Good website.
Want to learn more about managing stress? Read “Stress and Diabetes: Relaxation Techniques,” “Three Ways to Cope With Stress” and “Time to Focus on Emotional Health.”