What You Should Know About Stress and Diabetes

A support group can help you reduce your stress, which can make managing your blood sugar easier.

Stress is bad for your health – but you probably know that from experience. (If you’ve somehow skated through this life stress-free, we want to know your secrets.) Stress can keep you up all night and cause diarrhea, headaches, fatigue and more.  

Stress also harms your health in ways you can’t quite see or feel. Some are well known, like high blood pressure. Others may surprise you, like the link between stress and type 2 diabetes. 

Does Stress Cause Diabetes? 
Not exactly. Stress alone won’t give you diabetes, but it is a risk factor for the disease. If you already have diabetes, stress can make it hard for you to achieve and maintain good control.  

Scientists don’t yet have a clear understanding of how it all works. They believe there is a biological basis for it, though. One simplified explanation: Stress releases hormones that can make blood sugar levels rise. 

In addition, stress can trigger some unhealthy behaviors that contribute to diabetes. You may find yourself overeating, seeking sugary foods or alcohol or spending hours in front of the TV. 

What Does the Research Show? 
Numerous studies show that people who experience significant stress are more likely to have high blood sugar than their less-stressed peers.  
Research in the journal Scientific Reports analyzed blood sugar levels in an Israeli population during a period of armed conflict. The people who lived closest to the military operations – who heard rocket fire and alert sirens every day – had higher blood sugar levels than people who lived farther away. 

Far less stressful events also correlate with elevated blood sugar levels. The Annual Review of Public Health published an extensive review of the medical literature on stress and diabetes. Some of the stress-related factors in diabetes include: 

  • Stressful working conditions
  • Traumatic events
  • Depression
  • Personality traits/mental health issues that create conflict with others 

Should I Get a Therapist?
It certainly can’t hurt, especially if you struggle with anxiety. Your MDVIP-affiliated physician can help you find a professional.

Anxiety describes feelings of fear or worry or being on edge – feelings that develop in response to stress. People with diabetes are 20 percent more likely to have anxiety than people without diabetes. 

The good news is that psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can really help with these emotions. If you have diabetes, therapy may be a smart move to help you manage your condition. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 75 percent of people who get therapy benefit from it. Talk therapy has been shown to: 

  • Improve emotions and behaviors 
  • Lead to positive changes in the brain and body
  • Reduce sick days, disability, and medical problems

Still, we know not everyone is inclined to see a therapist. For all of you, here is some coping guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

  • Seek out diabetes support groups
  • Find a diabetes educator to help you make sense of your health 
  • Do something active, such as a short walk, for calming relief 
  • Schedule time to recharge with an activity you enjoy
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine
  • Be sure to get enough sleep 

Physician Locator
Enter a full address, city, state, or ZIP code. You can also browse our city directory to find physicians in your area.
Enter Doctor's Name