What’s on your mind? When it comes to stress, asking yourself this question could ease your anxiety and improve how you manage your diabetes.
Daily life is filled with demands and decisions, and diabetes adds one more layer of stress. But there are healthier ways to handle stressful situations, whether it’s a traffic jam, an argument with a loved one, or taking control of your blood glucose numbers.
Managing stress healthfully is an essential part of managing diabetes because stress can have serious effects on your blood sugar. Hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol increase during stressful events, encouraging the liver to produce extra glucose while also increasing insulin resistance.
“When people experience stress, they oftentimes do things that are not ideal for effective glucose management,” says Mark Heyman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in San Diego who specializes in diabetes and also has type one diabetes. “People will eat junk foods because they can activate pleasure centers in the brain and temporarily relieve stress. People may also engage in avoidance behavior-they won’t be physically active or they avoid diabetes self-care.”
A MINDFUL APPROACH
One increasingly popular way to manage stress is called mindfulness. With roots in Buddhist traditions, mindfulness encourages judgement-free observations of what you are thinking and feeling in the present moment.
Mindfulness has developed into a cognitive therapy called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Created in 1979 by Jon Kabat_Zinn, Ph.D a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MBSR is an eight-week course that uses a combination of meditation, body awareness, and yoga. This and similar programs have been shown to reduce anxiety and high blood pressure.
Heather Nielsen, a counselor and wellness coach in Portland, Oregon, who has type 1 diabetes, says mindfulness techniques can help people with diabetes take the judgement and stigma out of having and dealing with diabetes.
“We encourage participants to practice curiosity and nonjudging with blood sugar monitoring,” she says. “We practice nonjudgment with the results. It’s simply information. Then you can act from a place of calm versus a place of distress. We create so much suffering for ourselves when we layer judgment and failure into our diabetes management.”
Mindfulness training helped a group of U.S. veterans significantly lower their blood glucose and diabetes-related distress. A group of 28 veterans from Pittsburgh participated in the study. After three months, on average, diabetes-related distress decreased by 41 percent, and their A1C levels fell from 8.3 percent to 7.3 percent.
A key to mindfulness is observing your thoughts and emotions, almost from an outsider’s perspective. Observation allows for reflection on what is going on and why the thoughts are happening, rather than just reacting to the situation.
Some people find if helpful to set aside time to practice mindfulness, and others incorporate it into daily activity. There is no right or wrong way. ” by observing, you give yourself some space and emotional detachment to see what is going on,” Heyman says.
BE MORE MINDFUL
* Keep your thoughts on the present; live where your feet are.
* Observe your thoughts. Meditate, journal, or simply stop to breathe to reflect on what’s going through your mind
* Accept your emotions without judgement.
Remember that there are no right or wrong ways to feel.
* Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future.
* Take yourself off autopilot. Sometimes our reactions to situations are automatic, such as anger in traffic. Instead, be more aware of your reactions.
REFERENCES: Allison Nimlos/ diabetic Living Magazine/ Spring 2015 pg.42 &43