The holidays often foster high stress levels in people. As joyous as the holidays can be, they can also be really stressful at times. High bloodsugars often show up more prominently during the holidays. While changes in diet is one factor, it's not the only one.
"There is a myth out there that it's all about food as to why the blood sugar rises," says Dr. Richard Hellman (former president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists), The truth is that other factors play a role, he explains, including stress.
Stress can wreak serious havoc on our minds, bodies, and diabetes management. Being mindful of our stress levels, especially during the holidays, is really important. Stress usually affects our bloodsugars for two main reasons. According to a recent report by the ADA:
- People under stress may not take as good care of themselves as they normally would. They may eat and/or drink more, and exercise less. They may forget, or feel they don’t have time to check their glucose levels or plan good meals regularly.
- Stress hormones can alter bloodsugar levels directly (usually raising sugars).
Moreover, once activated, stress hormones (like epinephrine and cortisol) that are busy dealing with (real or perceived) short-term danger stay "on" for a long time, thereby contributing to unwanted high blood sugar levels.
"In diabetes, because of either an absolute lack of insulin, such as Type 1 diabetes, or a relative lack of insulin, such as Type 2, there isn't enough insulin to cope with these hormones, so blood sugar levels rise," says Richard Surwit, PhD, vice chairman of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center, and author of The Mind Body Diabetes Revolution.
More insulin is often needed during high-stress times to combat these effects. Plus, since insulin can function as a fat-storing hormone, the more insulin our body needs, the more fat our body can end up storing. Can you see the vicious cycle at work here?)
Why Mental Stress Matters
· The body can’t tell the difference between real or perceived threats. It doesn’t decipher between a mental stressor like the internal stress you experience when being yelled at by your boss or parents, and the imagined worry over the very real feeling that you may be yelled at by said parties in the future. You picture it clearly in your mind, and it feels real, ergo, it is real—to the body at least. This is where the flight-or-flight response kicks in.
· Science has proven that when the fight-or-flight response (which kicks in as a result of perceived stressors (whether real or imagined, physical or mental) is activated, many of our hormone levels rise. The cumulative effect of this often leads to high bloodsugar levels since these hormones launch into action and respond by making a lot of stored energy (like glucose and fat) available to cells, which are primed to help us escape the (perceived) danger.