Stress and Diabetes


Managing diabetes is a life-long process which entails continuous effort and commitment. At times, this may cause stress and feelings of frustration along the way. Adherence to medication, changing eating habits, fear of complications can all be triggers to developing stress, anxiety and depression in the long-run. When you are able to identify available resources to cope and deal with the stress, it serves as a protective factor against these psychological conditions. Here, we will explore further on how stress affects diabetes and the coping strategies you may engage in to better manage your stress.

How stress affects diabetes, you ask?

If not managed accordingly, stress can cause serious wear and tear to your body. When you have Type 2 diabetes, stress may increase your blood sugar levels. At the same time, fat cells will also be activated causing you to gain more visceral fat which in turn, can worsen your diabetes. Constant stress and frustration from lifestyle changes may also lead to diabetes burnout. People who experience a burnout may feel hopeless, frustrated and succumb to their diabetes condition. Burnout can lead to self-destructive behaviours such as avoiding to take medications or insulin and adopting a poor diet.

How to then manage stress in diabetes?

Knowing the coping strategies and resources available when you are under a lot of pressure can be of great help:

1)      The power of mindset

Having the right mindset can really go a long way in managing your stress. When you adopt a stress is enhancing mindset, you are more likely to accept and utilize the stress by engaging in behaviours that can lead to enhancing outcomes (Crum, Salovey & Anchor, 2013).  Adopting a positive outlook towards the chronic disease and modifying behaviour to manage diabetes can help strengthen your mental resilience and boost well-being. Living with Type 2 diabetes is a constant struggle but know that this condition is reversible. Believing that you are able to improve your condition can give you a sense of hope and purpose to strive and make healthy lifestyle changes. It has even been found that when you are able to find positive meaning in negative circumstances, you become more psychologically resilient and experience more positive emotions (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2012).

2)      Making health a habit

Engaging in exercise and eating healthy foods are effective ways to manage stress. The problem is, you just don’t know how to start or where to begin. Don’t worry, this happens to a lot of people. The key point is to start small. When you are able to achieve one healthy habit, however small, it can enhance your self -efficacy and gives you the confidence to engage in other health promoting habits (Gardner, Lally & Wardle, 2012). For example, you may want to start exercising so why not begin by walking outdoors around your neighbourhood for 10 to 15 minutes each day. Walking also has its benefits by increasing muscle strength as well as reducing body fat. When you want to start a new healthy habit, choose a doable goal that you would like to achieve. The simpler the goal, the easier it is for you to work with. You may also find it useful to keep track of your progress by making a daily-tick sheet of your daily achievement (Gardner, Lally & Wardle, 2012).

3)      Support System

At times, you may feel demotivated to keep up with the daily routine and regime of taking your medications and following the dietary intake. It is important to remember that you are not alone in this journey. Encouragement and assistance from your family members can help you get back on track. When good social support is present, it may decrease your risk of experiencing emotional distress leading to better well-being (Ramkisson, Pillay & Sibanda, 2017). Apart from that, you can always reach out to organisations and associations such as the Malaysian Diabetes Association that allows you to share your thoughts and connect through a safe space and at the same time, be equipped with educational knowledge to better manage your condition.

4)      Therapy

If you ever feel like wanting to talk to someone about your worries and concerns, you may also reach out to a health psychologist or therapist. Through several therapy sessions, you will learn and explore the ways to reframe your thoughts and feelings, learn effective coping strategies to cope with the stressors and struggles you are facing in managing diabetes. With the use of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), you and your therapist will work together in modifying how you think and behave which in turn, optimises your capacity to deal with stress and enhance your mental resilience to the fullest.

Knowing the techniques and strategies in managing stress can really help in building your resilience. If left unmanaged, stress can be detrimental to your health, physically and mentally. At times, it is normal to feel demotivated, frustrated and helpless but it is also important to remember that the effects of diabetes is reversible and can be modified through adopting a positive mindset, healthy lifestyle changes and having a strong support system. Everyone has their own pace, so do you. Hence, it is okay to start small as long as you are making progress each day.