Between constant management, fear, and pain, stress often plays a large role in the life of an individual with diabetes. That stress is often accompanied by high blood pressure and heart rate, both of which deplete energy, making sticking to your management routine that much harder.
It’s not uncommon for all this stress to take its toll and manifest itself in the form of anxiety and/or depression. In fact, studies suggest that people with diabetes are actually 3-4 times more likely than the general population to suffer from depression, which often goes hand in hand with decreased energy and lethargy– again, not exactly a recipe for tight blood glucose control.
The hectic nature of our lives can leave us feeling like our only choice is to white knuckle it through exceedingly stressful times. However, that doesn’t have to be the answer. There are things we can all do to alleviate both the big things life sends our way, and the day-to-day stresses that we all encounter. The best part is, most of them are free or inexpensive, easy to do, and don’t take a whole lot of time! Take a look!
1. GET SWEATY
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which can help improve mood and decrease stress. Exercise can also alleviate symptoms of depression by encouraging regrowth of neurons in the region frequently associated with damage caused by the condition. And let’s not forget the natural feelings of confidence and pleasure associated with doing things that are good for your health!
Additionally, remember the energy-depleting nature of stress we mentioned earlier? Well, exercise can actually give you more energy! In addition to improving your endurance and making you stronger over time, exercise improves the efficiency with which your cardiovascular system functions, allowing that energy to be used by the rest of your body throughout the day.
2. REDUCE YOUR CAFFEINE INTAKE
For me, coffee is one of, if not the most essential part of my morning routine. It’s not my alarm that wakes me up, and it’s not showering. It’s coffee. So, I understand why cutting back on caffeine sounds like insanity. However, caffeine is a stimulant. The boost of energy you’re getting can actually betray you later in the day– making you feel jittery and increasing anxiety, if you drink too much.
Like with most things, everyone has a different threshold for caffeine. If you’re noticing an uptick in anxiety, assess your caffeine intake. I’m not suggesting you quit cold turkey, but if you notice it affecting your mood, it might be time to mix-in some decaf.
3. GET A NEW HOBBY
Maybe you had a hobby that you simply stopped making time for. Or perhaps there’s a skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Make the time to start again, or for the first time! Doing things you enjoy is a great way to distract yourself from what’s causing you stress. Plus, and this might be obvious, doing things you like, makes you happy. Taking the time to do something that brings you pleasure is a great way to give yourself the opportunity to relax and gain perspective.
4. HANG OUT WITH YOUR PET
There is a growing body of research that suggests individuals who have a dog report lower levels of stress. Spending time with a pet can cause your brain to release oxytocin, a mood boosting chemical. The companionship offered by pets also goes a long way in reducing anxiety!
While pets may seem like a lot of responsibility, studies suggest that they may actually be providing their owners with a sense of purpose. Plus, If you find it hard to get out off the couch and out of the house, you might find that Fido is exactly the motivation you need!
5. LEARN TO SAY “NO”
Declining opportunities is hard, but setting boundaries is important. We all have a ton of obligations, and it can be easy to find yourself in the habit of agreeing to more than you can handle. It can be difficult to set limits on what you can accomplish in a day, week, or month, but it’s vital to maintaining balance.
It’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to decline the dinner invitation extended in the middle of a busy week simply because it’s the one night when you have nothing going on. Take that time to do something for yourself. Relax, and remember that you deserve to be a priority.
6. SPEND TIME WITH LOVED ONES
Spending time with the people you care about makes you happy! Plus, making plans gives you something to look forward to (just make sure you’re not overextending yourself). Being reminded that you have people in your corner can do wonders for your sense of well-being.
7. TAKE A DEEP BREATH
When stressed, the body releases cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol is responsible for regulating the body’s responses to stress (i.e. fight-or-flight). Deep breathing can actually activate the opposite– a relaxation response.
Taking some time to remove yourself from a stressful situation to meditate or focus on breathing exercises can send the message to your body that it’s okay to relax. As little as five minutes can do wonders for your mental state.
8. IMPROVE YOUR DIET
Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet can have a huge impact on your stress levels. Not only will you feel better, you’ll have more energy. Plus, if you’re reaching for the right foods, you can actually reap some pretty awesome mood-boosting benefits. Spinach, for instance, is high in folate, which increases the pleasure-inducing chemical, dopamine.
Try to make your mealtime routine a relaxing one. Don’t rush yourself. Also, try to avoid skipping meals. In addition to wreaking havoc on your blood glucose levels, there’s very little more stressful than being hangry.
9. MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
Taking time to focus on yourself is so important. In our hectic lives, it can be difficult to take the time we need to do something we enjoy. Something that’s all about making ourselves feel good. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to find a way to work in some “you time.” That doesn’t have to mean neglecting something else, but it can mean saying no to certain things.
Try to allocate time to do something special for yourself each week. Consider having coffee at your favorite coffee shop instead of rushing through the drive-thru. Maybe you’d prefer a walk in the park listening to a podcast or your favorite band… or drawing yourself a relaxing bath… or curling up with your favorite book at the end of a hectic day. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s a time dedicated to you.
10. TALK IT OUT
If you’re feeling stressed, reach out. You don’t have to handle it alone. Talk to your friends, family, or a professional about the things that are causing you stress. While they may not have all the answers, it’ll feel good to get it off your chest.
11. WRITE IT OUT
Not one for talking? Consider investing in a journal. Writing out what’s bothering you can be incredibly cathartic, and having journal entries to reflect upon can help put things into perspective.
Remember that you don’t have to limit your writing to what’s bothering you. If it appeals to you, consider writing down the things for which you are grateful.
12. FORGIVE YOURSELF
Be kind to yourself. Remember that we all make mistakes. If you’ve taken a wrong turn, do what you can to fix it, and move on. It’s important to let go of the guilt and start focusing on the future. Just keep going. You’re doing great!