Saturday, July 19, 2014

Stress and Diabetes

Stress isn't just something you need to read about. Stress is something you need to manage because it is more powerful than you ever imagined and that goes doubly for anyone with diabetes or a heart condition. But don't take my word for it, take The American Diabetes Association's word for it.

How does stress fit into the life of a diabetic? For one thing, that all-important magical number you get on your glucometer each day or that A1C reading on your quarterly blood work is where it hits. The ADA indicates that stress, in fact, has a major impact on the following:

  Increasing blood glucose levels (quickly and substantially)
  Inciting strong negative emotions
  Impairing sound thinking and decision-making
  Tempting compulsive, poor eating

If you've been under more stress than usual, as when there's a financial setback or a loss of a loved one, stress comes as part of the equation. But at what price do you endure this stress as a diabetic? The A1C is telling you something and it is a clear indication that something needs to be done. 

The answer may not be confined to an adjustment in medication, but an adjustment in your life overall. That means not only diet and exercise, but a changed perspective on things and a renewal to help you return to setting a more even keel on your emotions. Yes, stress affects the emotions as the ADA indicates when they note how it affects your thinking and decision making.

How can anyone be expected to be fully and competently functioning when there's a pall of negativity over everything? What does the future hold when all you see is gloom? How will you interact with family, friends, associates or co-workers? Stress and its insidious erosion of your happiness quotient has to show in your appearance and how you respond to much of what is happening all around you. Wouldn't that make sense?

We hear an awful lot about something called mindfulness these days and it is something to be considered as an effective stress-busting technique. Basically, it all boils down to helping yourself get into a routine of doing very simple, basic exercises each day that will aid you in your plan to combat your life stress. The link I've provided here to The Mayo Clinic's series of exercises is an excellent start because it brings the everyday into your plan. You don't need to sit and meditate but you do need to help yourself revise some of the things you do each day. Here are some of the examples they provide (you'll read a more detailed explanation at their site):
  • pay attention
  • make the familiar new again
  • focus on your breathing
  • awaken your senses
The last part about awakening your senses is a wonderful bit of advice. One thing that is often lost is the very real wonder of smelling the scent of flowers. Unfortunately, many of the flowers you'll buy in stores have had the scent bred out of them. Don't believe me? Ok, go over to one of those roses they're selling and give it a sniff. No scent! When did you ever think a rose wouldn't have that wonderful scent? How to handle this and give your senses a reawakening? Find someone's garden. Those roses still smell as wonderful as ever. Better yet, see if you can get a miniature rose bush to keep in your home or on your desk.

Breathing is certainly something where you can begin right now as you read this blog. It's an exercise that you'll do throughout the day and it begins the important cycle of regrowth and re-energizing yourself. If you need a bit of help here, I have a video on the Internet where you see what relaxation breathing is, how simple it is and that it can be done anywhere, at any time during the day and as often as you feel you might need it. Bookmark the site. Refresh yourself with it and do it right now. Yes, stop reading and get that video and, if you can, download it to your phone or your computer and keep it right there as a constant aid in stress reduction.

Outside of diet and simple exercise and relaxation breathing, what else can you do to help reduce that stress burden that is weighing you down? What about learning to laugh again? It goes without saying that laughter is one of the best medicines and we have research to verify it.  Medical schools are even adding research and seminars on the benefits of laughter in health. And you can't overdose on this one, plus there's no prescription needed. The spirit is enlivened, the body is exercised (yes, really) and the mood is immediately brightened.

What makes you laugh? Do you need a joke, a video, a thought about something really funny that happened to you or someone else? Go for it. Keep something around you to remind you of whatever makes you laugh. Put something on your desk, your refrigerator or in your car. You have my permission and, in fact, you have my urging to do it. 

No one's life should be without a good dose of laughter, no matter what their circumstances. Take a clue from Irish wakes where everyone laughs until they cry and that's a great relief.  Always remember the good times because they are always with you and ready for you to call them up and revel in them again. Those memories will not go away, but they do sit quietly waiting for your call. Respond to it and laugh again.

This relates especially to diabetics because of your struggle with your glucose levels, but it is also for everyone else. We all need to learn how to manage stress better and work on a return to laughter.

One other thing to remember is that music can be a real lifesaver. Pick something that makes you feel mellow or happy or maybe just like dancing. Dancing, in fact, is a wonderful stress reliever, but music is available to you anywhere, so set up something in your home, your office and your car with your specific stress-reducing music. Now make it part of your daily routine to put music in your life. You may be surprised how helpful it can be.