Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.
A few health issues, a couple of family worries, general anxiety about the state of the world. And while I know I’m not alone, I also know that stress can spell particular trouble for people with type 2 diabetes, raising blood sugars and making it more difficult to stay on track with medications, diet and exercise.
It can also lead you to reach for food, alcohol, or cigarettes. Anything to calm you down.
In the old days, my anxieties turned me to food. I would do okay during the day – I counted carbs and calories and avoided sweet treats. But around midnight, stressed out and unable to sleep, I’d find myself standing before the open refrigerator, scanning the shelves for something, anything to eat. Cold pasta, left-over cheesecake, cake icing from a can.
This habit locked me in a vicious cycle: up until one or two a.m., by morning I’d rise exhausted with higher than normal sugars, which made me more irritable and anxious and even less able to cope with my stressors.
Since that time, I’ve uncovered a few tactics to help me avoid the refrigerator blues. While I don’t always succeed in managing my anxieties, I try not to let them sabotage my diabetes care. They include:
- Be kind to yourself. If you’re stressed, you’re probably also deep into self-criticism, telling yourself you should be stronger, calmer, more in control and on and on. But this is the time to see the positive, even if it means sticking Post-It affirmations on your bathroom mirror to keep you in a better frame of mind.
- Up your self-care. Remember those lemon scented candles you got from your cousin for Christmas? Now is the time to put them to use, along with a foot rub from your husband or a pedicurist and a long bathtub soak. Treat yourself gently and well.
- Question yourself. Before undermining your diabetes care, ask if eating that ice cream bar is truly in your best interest, and whether it is going to make you feel better. If not, try to think about what might truly help. Writing down your thoughts in a notebook might be useful, as could talking problems over with a friend or a therapist.
- Get moving. By now everyone knows that exercise relieves stress. If you’re in an exercise program, don’t stop. But if you’re feeling too worked up to follow a high energy regimen, go for something that you can handle at the moment. Think slow nature walks, yoga, or tai-chi.
- Consider meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been scientifically proven to lower your heart rate and cut stress. And it’s really not hard to begin. For me, I simply remain in bed for five to ten minutes before I rise, close my eyes, relax my body and concentrate on keeping my mind clear. As stray worries drift by, I observe them neutrally, then let them go. At first it may seem strange and unfamiliar, but if you keep with it, it really can help.
Staying calm isn’t easy. Stress – good and bad -- is part of life. But if it’s getting in the way of your diabetes care, talk to your doctor. Nothing is worth more than your good health.