Diabetes. A world of possibilities coverThis is chapter 7 of my book “DIABETES. A world of possibilities”, which I’m publishing here for free. You can access all the chapters published until now here.

Everybody knows that diabetes can physically affect different parts of the body. But it also affects the person suffering from it emotionally, and somehow also those around him.
Changes in blood glucose levels, from hyperglycemia to hypoglycemia or vice versa, often affect mood and, therefore, also the quality of life.
Let’s see how stress, depression, and other emotional states can affect our overall health, especially if you have diabetes.

Stress

For some time, stress has been directly linked to diabetes. There are some theories that even point to stress as a possible cause of this disease. Causing it or not, the truth is that stress can affect blood sugar levels, usually causing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), making the adequate control of diabetes harder.

Western societies seem to have lost the path and the values that guided our behavior before, leading us to face many parts of our daily life stressfully.

You could say that there are two types of stress:

External Stress: This type of stress is the most talked about, and is usually caused by external circumstances surrounding our lives, such as work, school, family, or even the national economic state, as well as the emotional burden caused by our own diseases or the ones your relatives suffer from, unhealthy family or friend relationships that burn you inside, and major life changes such as getting married, divorced, etc. We could also call it occupational, emotional, or physical stress. That is, life and our reactions to events cause physical stress on our bodies, which eventually can lead to or worsen diseases.

I guess it will not seem strange to you that almost 25 percent of people are angry or somewhat angry at work. (7)

Internal Stress: Stress should not only be understood as something external to oneself, but our body, our cells, and our organs may be suffering stress if you overwhelm them, or don‘t let them perform their duties optimally; for example, by eating too many carbohydrates or sugars, not drinking enough water, smoking, drinking alcohol, etc.

In this case, stress increases the risk of diabetes, since the body secretes cortisol in abundance in stressful situations. Since cortisol is a hormone that counteracts the effects of insulin, the result is high blood sugar. (8) In other words, cortisol makes it more difficult for sugar to get into the cells, so the sugar remains circulating in the blood.
Eventually, prolonged stress can affect the processing of fats and proteins, increasing abdominal fat and contributing to insulin resistance.

And if you already have diabetes, you also have the stress generated by the need to control the disease at all hours and in all meals.

But not everything is negative. The upside is that all this overhead generated by stress can be reduced by various strategies or habits that we all know, but we do not give them enough importance, even though they can save our lives.
Such habits can aid you physically and emotionally.

Ideas and habits to reduce stress:

  • Breathe deeply through your nose, holding the air for a moment, and then breathe out slowly through your mouth. You can practice this several times a day or when you feel like you are getting stressed.
  • Go for a walk or walk your dog in a quiet area where there is no traffic or noise and, if possible, in nature.
  • Listen to classical or relaxing music.
  • Read a book for pleasure, not obligation.
  • Play a musical instrument for pleasure.
  • Learn Yoga or some other similar technique.
  • Meditate or pray.
  • Exercise regularly. Among other things, you benefit from the endorphins secreted by the body which act as anti-stressing hormones.
  • Reduce or avoid substances that alter moods, such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and sugar.

At the end of the day, what creates stress in our body and in our mind is our interpretation of the facts and circumstances of life. And that is under our control.
It is not easy to change the way you are used to interpreting things, but with practice, it is something that anyone can change.

Personally, one of the things that creates stress in different situations of my life is the desire to be in control. In fact, the desire for control is something that most people have.

But there are many situations we cannot control, such as natural disasters, illness of loved ones, the economy of a country, or something as simple as wanting our colleague from work or school to not bring sweet things as snacks, which will raise our desire to eat something sweet and we know we should not.

We cannot, and should not, want to control these situations. They are what they are. Period. What we can control and change, though, is how we let the circumstances affect us.
A more “healthy” reaction, from an emotional point of view, would be to prefer something to be a certain way, but not expect it or require it to be that way.

How we interpret the facts in our minds affects how we feel, and those emotions, if they are negative and remain active long enough, can cause symptoms or diseases.

 

Negative thoughts → Negative emotions → Symptoms

Depression

Depression is another emotion or state closely related to diabetes. In fact, the English physician Thomas Willis, the first who declared that the presence of glucose in urine was a sign of diabetes, thought that depression was the cause of diabetes.
It is not yet clear which comes first, but it is evident that there is a fairly close relationship between the two.

Depression also worsens diseases that one already has.

People with diabetes who are also depressed have worse glycemic control and higher rates of chronic complications. (9)

On one hand, depression affects some physiological processes that can worsen diabetes, such as immune responses, inflammation, and even insulin resistance. (10)
On the other hand, if someone is depressed, it will be harder for them to follow their diet, exercise regularly, and take their medications.

Everything that we have talked about here about stress, depression, and emotions allows us to better understand the connection between mind and body, something that traditional medicine has not yet fully accepted.

Tip: You should accept that from time to time you are going to be in a bad mood, sad, or even feel a little empty. It is part of having diabetes to have periods of low or high blood glucose and their consequent mood changes. Give yourself permission to be in that mood for a few minutes or hours.
But if you see that, even having normal blood glucose levels, you feel depressed for several days or weeks in a row, I recommend that you go to a professional or seek the way out of this situation, since remaining in a depressed state for a long time may affect your health negatively, both mentally and physically.
The aim is that these moments are the exception and not the norm.

It is unfortunate that schools do not teach us to deal with the frustrations of life. In a world as stressful as we live in, it would be much more practical and useful to learn and practice ways to reduce stress and interpret the facts and events in healthy ways, than learning the names of the rivers in a particular country.
Parents should also take the role of educators and teach children these habits first at home.

From the next chapter on, I will delve more into facts about diabetes, types, causes, treatments, etc…

(7) Baker, D. y Stauth, C. (2004) What Happy People Know, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, p. 228.
(8) Surwit, R. S. y Schneider, M. S. (1993) Role of Stress in the Etiology and Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus, en: Psychosomatic Medicine 55(4), pp. 380-393.
(9) Lustman, P. J., Anderson, R. J. et al. (2000) Depression and Poor Glycemic Control: A Meta-Analytical Review of the Literature, en: Diabetes Care 23(7), pp. 934-942.
de Groot, M., Anderson, R. et al. (2001) Association of Depression and Diabetes Complications: A Meta-Analysis, en: Psychosomatic Medicine 63(4), pp. 619-630.
(10) House, F., Seale S. A. y Newman, I. B. (2008) The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle, London: Penguin Group, p. 236.

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