9 Ways To Ease Stress From Diabetes Care
The stress of managing diabetes can take its toll. Knowing how to ease your mind and body in anxious moments can contribute to a sense of security. “The idea is to make healthy reactions habitual so you turn to them instead of going into distress too deeply,” says Camilla Levister, ANP-C, CDE, a diabetes educator with Mount Sinai Diabetes Center in New York City.
Read on for nine strategies to help you feel safe and centered.
1. Challenge panicky thoughts.
“I’ll never be able to control my blood glucose.” Sound familiar? Dwelling on worst-case scenarios—what therapists call catastrophic thinking—is easy to do in moments of stress, even though such thoughts rarely reflect reality. “It’s essential to challenge the basis of our beliefs, especially when we are hurting,” says Joseph Napora, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of Stress-Free Diabetes: Your Guide to Health and Happiness. Instead, he says, focus on what is happening now and say to yourself, “In this moment, I am safe. There is no threat to my well-being.” Breathe, let go of needless worries, and relax.
2. Act now.
When your diabetes to-do list feels overwhelming, pick something you can do right now and act on it. Get up from your office desk and walk around the block, or schedule a 30-minute exercise break on your calendar twice a week. You might feel more in control if you start to make small, healthy changes to your daily routine.
Your body tells you when you’re feeling stressed. Your breathing may become shallow and quick and your muscles tense. Deep, regular breathing helps steady your heart rate and calm your nervous system. Try to soothe yourself by counting your breaths: Inhale to a slow count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for eight. Practice this timed breathing first thing in the morning and again at bedtime. Make it a habit, says Alicia McAuliffe-Fogarty, PhD, vice president of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Lifestyle Management Team.
4. Have a mantra.
When facing an anxiety-provoking situation, think of a meaningful phrase that can help you get through it, suggests Kara Harrington, PhD, a staff psychologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. For example, many of her patients dread checking their numbers because, if they’re high, they blame themselves for doing something wrong. Instead, she urges them to think of test results as simply the information they need to manage their diabetes well. “I tell them to think, ‘It’s just a number.’ It’s shifting the focus from results to effort because that’s all we can control in diabetes,” she says.
5. Go to your happy place.
When you feel stress building, close your eyes for a few minutes and imagine yourself in a peaceful place. Bring all of your senses to the scene, McAuliffe-Fogarty says. For example, if you’re imagining the seashore, note the sound of the waves, the salty smell of the air, the feeling of a cool breeze on your face, and the grainy sand between your fingers. This imagery can provoke calmness and tranquility.
Exercise is a great way to quickly boost your mood, says physiologist Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, FACSM, an ADA consultant and author of Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook: Your Guide to Peak Performance. Even 15 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking or biking, can prompt your brain to release feel-good hormones. Easy moves such as leg extensions, overhead arm stretches, or walking for three minutes every half hour can help regulate blood glucose levels throughout the day, according to new guidelines from the ADA.
Focusing on images, sounds, specific thoughts, or breathing can de-clutter your mind in minutes. Over time, meditation might also bolster the parts of your brain that help you react more calmly to stressful events, research suggests. Not sure how to begin? Try a smartphone app or website that provides guided meditation.
A few of the most popular: Calm, Headspace, and Omvana.
8. Give thanks.
Reflecting on life’s upsides can help you improve your overall well-being, research shows. Napora suggests keeping a journal to remind yourself of everyday things that give you joy, such as a fun lunch with friends, the warmth of a hug from a spouse or grandchild, the companionship of a pet, and even the moments you can put your feet up for a good read.
9. Own your choices.
If you’ve made a decision to indulge, don’t feel guilty about it. Who doesn’t want to enjoy a slice of cake at a wedding reception or chocolates on Valentine’s Day? “Know that you’re making a quality-of-life choice if you have some wedding cake with everyone else,” says Jana Wardian, PhD, research director at the Wilford Hall Diabetes Center of Excellence in San Antonio, Texas. Remind yourself that here, too, you’re in control: You can make adjustments to your insulin dose, what else you eat, or exercise regimen to make room for that dessert.