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Stress and Diabetes

Por Lic. Nina Nazor Robles* -

The pace of modern life is such that quiet moments in which to relax are few and far between.

Stress can seriously affect your health and even raise your blood sugar. Therefore, it is very important to learn to handle it so that you can both maintain your quality of life, and control your diabetes.

What is stress?
Stress, or emotional tension, is our body's response to an emergency situation. The situation can be either a positive or a negative one. Winning the lottery, for example, is a stressful situation even if it is a very good one.

There is such a thing as positive stress. It is the drive that makes us get up in the morning, go to work, or study; but there is also negative stress, which is the kind that affects our health. Stress can be acute or chronic. Acute stress appears at a particular point in time--when we crash the car, or there is an earthquake, for example. Chronic stress is what affects us when we face stressful situations day after day, such as problems at work, conflicts with our partners or friends, or having to live with diabetes.

What happens to our bodies when we are under stress?
Stress triggers an emergency reaction in our bodies that is intended to prepare us to fight or flee from danger.

This is why, when we are faced with a stressful situation, our body boosts its production of the emergency hormone, adrenalin. Adrenalin triggers a series of reactions in our body so that we can face the danger. These include the following:

• Our heartbeat speeds up and our blood flows through our blood vessels faster to make sure all our muscles receive oxygen so that we can fight or run away from the danger as necessary. This, of course, raises our blood pressure.
• Our skin turns pale and our digestive system shuts down operations because blood is being diverted to our muscles.
• The liver, which keeps a store of glucose and fats for emergencies, unleashes this stored fuel into the blood so that it is available for immediate use. This raises the blood's glucose and fat content.

The problem is that, instead of fighting or running in the face of danger, we often just sit down. When this happens, all the fat that has been transferred to our bloodstream is not used up.

What are the most stressful situations?
Some situations, such as the death of or separation from a loved one, or suffering from a chronic disease such as diabetes, increase stress. So do the following:

• Losing your job
• Being in debt
• Starting a new job
• The arrival of a new member in the family
• Moving to a new place
• Accidents

Having diabetes introduces additional stress factors into your life such as visits to the doctor, measuring your glucose levels, and having to remember to take your medication or give yourself injections, among other things.

It is important to know that people with diabetes often suffer from depression. Some symptoms of depression are similar to those of stress, but they are worse and last longer. They include no longer enjoying things you used to like doing, feeling sad and weepy, feeling that nobody understands you, feeling that the situation is hopeless and that the future is bleak. If you realize you are suffering from this kind of depression, you should seek medical advice immediately, because depression must be treated with therapy and possibly, medication.

How can you control stress?
There are several ways to control stress and they can also help you feel good in general. Some of them are quite simple. They include:

• Exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways to relax. It also helps control your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight. Exercise should be a regular part of your life!
• Massage. From a foot massage to a full body massage, a massage can work wonders in terms of immediate relaxation. Massage sessions should be done by professionals, however.
• Soft music. Music that has a gentle beat, and instrumental music are good options for the end of the working day. You can listen to music in the car or when you get home; it has a wonderful calming effect.
• Contact with nature. Strolling through the countryside, taking a walk around the park, buying flowers, watering the plants or getting in touch with nature by listening to waterfalls, the sound of the sea or the rain are all ways to relax.
• Deep breathing exercises. Learn to breathe deeply. Use your full lung capacity and the muscles of your diaphragm to breath in and out deeply and rhythmically.
• Yoga or meditation. These ancient disciplines are based on deep breathing and help a great deal in relaxation. They are easy to do, provided you get proper guidance.
• Share your problems. Talking to a good friend can help reduce stress levels.
• Have a good laugh. The curative and relaxing power of laughter is wonderful. Read a funny book or call your funniest friend when you`re feeling stressed out.
• Hug people. Contact with the people we love is one of the best ways to relax.
• Creative visualization. Conjure up vivid, positive, and happy images in your mind of nature or of yourself, that help you relax. Several studies have shown that just closing your eyes and imagining scenes of nature alters your brain waves and relaxes you.

Controlling stress is simple: you just have to make relaxation activities part of your life. When you reduce the stress you experience, you'll feel better and it will be much easier for you to handle your diabetes.


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