Managing stressMonday, 2 August 2021
Emotional health can affect so many aspects of your daily life – how you handle stress, think, feel, act, and relate to others, as well as your day to day choices. When your emotional health is not at optimum, sticking to your diabetes management plan can be difficult.
Living with diabetes requires commitment. You may sometimes feel discouraged, frustrated, worried and tired of dealing with daily diabetes care. You might have been trying hard but not seeing any results. Those feelings can overwhelm you and may cause you to slip out of your healthy habits, such as monitoring your blood glucose levels and attending health care appointments. It this happens, it is ok. The important thing is to acknowledge your emotions and bring your emotional health back into balance.
What happens when you get stressed?
For people living with diabetes, managing stress is particularly important as it can also impact on your blood glucose levels. Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand, threat or challenge. When you experience a challenging situation, your nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline. This can increase the amount of glucose released from the liver into the bloodstream so that you have enough energy to deal with the ‘fight or flight’ situation.
When you have diabetes, your body may struggle to bring those high glucose levels back into your target range. Therefore, ongoing stress can lead to high blood glucose levels over a long period of time, resulting in damage to the blood vessels and diabetes-related complications. Stress can also make it harder for you to focus on your diabetes care. You may eat too much or not enough, forget to take medications or avoid exercise. Thus, the importance of adopting stress relief strategies and prioritising your emotional health becomes a crucial part of your diabetes management plan.
Meditation has been proven to help alleviate stress when performed consistently as a daily practice. It is an effective stress management tool that ultimately reprograms the brain to increase its capacity to manage stress. It helps to train the brain to be more open and less reactive. This better enables you to cope with the stressors in your daily life, such as worrying about your finances, caring for a sick parent or simply your day to day diabetes care. Daily stressors can accumulate, triggering your body to be in ‘stress response’ mode. By meditating, you counter this with the ‘relaxation response’. The more you meditate, the more you build mental resilience. There are many stress relief strategies that can help us in the moment, such as breathing techniques or physical activity. But when it comes to long term reduction in stress, studies have shown meditation is an effective intervention if it’s performed daily with as little as 10 minutes a day. 1
There are many meditation techniques out there and it can be overwhelming, so knowing the basics is important. Meditation is more than just sitting quietly and breathing. When you meditate, you are essentially cultivating awareness and compassion. You are training the mind to stop being easily distracted and instead focus on the present moment, guided by your breathing. It’s about learning to let your thoughts come and go without getting caught up in them and it helps to tame your mind’s restlessness by developing awareness for moments when your attention starts to wander off. Each time you notice your attention slipping away, you are actually building awareness and by focusing on your breathing, you bring your attention back to the present.
Before you begin, here are some simple steps:
- Decide on a time and place that works for you. This will help create a habit and allow your mind to become more comfortable with tes idea of being still.
- Decide on an amount of time to meditate. As a beginner, it’s important to start small, such as five or 10 minutes.
- Make sure you are sitting in a comfortable position – uncross your legs and arm, have your arms resting on your lap or by your side. Relax and keep your back straight.
- Choose guided or unguided meditation – for beginners it might be easier to follow guided meditation. This could be in person at a meditation group, via video or through an app.
Green therapy, also known as nature therapy or ecotherapy, comes from the idea that people are part of their environment. It supports the psychological benefits of being in nature and natural surroundings to boost growth, healing, and mental health. It can be as simple as gardening, bringing nature inside (such as plants for your home or framing an image of your favourite place in nature), helping the environment (for example, volunteering for a conservation project or building an animal habitat) and connecting with animals (such as visiting a community farm or birdwatching).
Here are a few good reasons to get your shoes on and head out into the nature, it:
- Suppresses negative thought patterns.
- Reduces stress, anxiety and depression.
- Improves your mood.
- Improves your physical health.
- Helps you take time out and feel more relaxed.
- Improves your resilience.
So, remember, next time you are feeling stressed or anxious, it’s the body telling you to take time out for self-care. Real self-care is to prioritise your mental health and to put your happiness over your history.
By Michelle Tong APD, CDE