Let’s face it – life gets busy. During busy times, stress levels can rise. Sometimes you may find that you are so busy trying to meet all your deadlines and take care of the demands everyone places on you, that you forget to take care of yourself. When stress is high, however, it’s more critical than ever to focus on supporting your body to ensure wellness.
Why is it so important to manage stress? In the short term, high stress levels can begin to have a negative impact on everything from your mood to your sleep patterns. Over time, chronic stress can lead to weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and increased insulin resistance. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may notice your blood sugar runs higher during times of stress, which can elevate your A1c levels if ongoing stressors aren’t addressed.
There is good news, though. While you can’t get rid of stress, you can manage your response to it. By doing that, you can have a positive impact on both your mental and physical wellness while keeping blood sugar in check.
5 Ways to Manage Stress & Improve Blood Sugar Levels
Step #1: Set up a structured sleep routine
Sleep sets the stage for the day ahead and a quality night’s rest can help you manage stress in a variety of ways. When you are well-rested, you tend to be in a better mood and are better able to handle the stressors life throws at you. On the flip side, after a poor night’s sleep, energy levels and mood are impacted. Every little stressor you face may become magnified. On top of that, a lack of sleep can elevate stress hormones in the body and raise blood sugar levels. High stress levels can also trigger insomnia, creating a difficult cycle of poor sleep that can be tricky to break.
One of the best ways to combat this is by setting yourself up with a structured sleep routine. I like to say, ‘if you want to sleep like a baby, you have to treat yourself like a baby.’ So, think about how a baby would go to sleep. A baby goes to sleep at a set time each night. She lays down in a dark, quiet, peaceful environment. Does that sound like your sleep routine? Probably not. But if you make it a habit to go to sleep the same time each night, remove distractions and electronics from your sleep area and create a relaxing sleep environment, chances are you will start to notice both your quality and quantity of sleep improve. With that, you will see your stress and blood sugar levels decline.
Step #2: Focus on your gut
Your gut and brain are closely connected. So, high levels of stress and anxiety can have a direct impact on everything from appetite to intestinal movement, and even the gut microbiome. Why is this important? Not only can your gut play a major role in immune function, but it is also linked with insulin and blood sugar regulation.
Eating a diet rich in fiber can be beneficial to your gut, but it isn’t always enough. If you are lacking the specific gut microbes to metabolize that fiber, the ingested fiber will simply pass through the gut and you will miss out on their benefits. People with type 2 diabetes have been shown to be deficient in the specific gut microbes that metabolize fibers into short-chain fatty acids, like butyrate. This matters because butyrate binds to protein receptors to stimulate the release of a hormone that triggers the body to produce insulin. When the production of butyrate is reduced, this in turn can throw off the insulin and blood glucose regulation in the body making it harder to maintain healthy glucose control–even with a healthful diet. To ensure you are promoting a healthy gut, fill your plate with a variety of high fiber foods along with foods rich in beneficial probiotic bacteria such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods.
Step #3: Practice Belly Breathing
It may sound simple, but practicing the act of ‘belly breathing’ – taking slow, controlled breaths deep into the belly – can be an effective way to quickly lower heart rate and stress levels no matter where you are.
Whether you are at home, at work or even in the car and you feel those stress levels rising, it’s time to stop and breathe. Here’s how to do it:
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.
- Take a slow, controlled breathe in through your nose. Focus on breathing into your belly. You should feel the hand on your stomach slowly being pushed forward while the hand on your chest remains still.
- Hold the breath for a count of three, then slowly through pursed lips – like you were whistling – release the air out through your mouth.
- Repeat these slow, controlled breaths a few times until you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Step #4 Make Time for Movement
One of the best ways to naturally manage stress levels and lower blood sugar at the same time is through exercise. Moving your body helps to release endorphins; feel-good chemicals in the brain that elevate mood and help you to better manage stress. The act of physical movement also helps to release muscle tension that can accumulate during stress. If that wasn’t enough, regular movement has been found to reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar regulation.
So how much exercise is enough? Even the simple act of stretching has been found to improve circulation and reduce stress. Over time, building up to 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise – such as brisk walking – can be an ideal way to manage both stress and blood sugar. Just remember to always consult your physician before starting or changing your exercise routine.
Step #5 Fill Your Plate with Stress-Busting Nutrients
You may not think of diet as something that has an impact on stress, but certain nutrients can reduce the level of circulating stress hormones in the body. Two of the best nutrients to fill up on during stressful times are vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids.
Vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables and foods such as strawberries and bell peppers, is a powerful antioxidant. In addition, research has found higher blood levels of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) m
ay help to return stress levels to normal faster after a stressful situation as compared to individuals with low blood levels of this important nutrient.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which come from fatty fish like salmon and tuna, can help to reduce inflammation in the body. It appears that consuming higher amounts of these healthy fats can also help to prevent stress levels from peaking during stressful situations.
The bottom line on stress management and type 2 diabetes
So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to stress and type 2 diabetes? If you want to manage your blood sugar levels, you have to get a handle on stress. If stress levels are chronically elevated, keeping blood sugar in a healthy range can be very challenging. Thankfully, if you take a few minutes each day to incorporate simple behaviors to reduce stress, your overall health and wellbeing may be improved.