Ain’t Nothing Sweet About Stress!

Some people only recognize Diabetes as a disease that affects you physically. The pancreas (physical) doesn’t work, which results in hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar – also physical) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar – physical again) which makes you ill (physical, physical, physical).

But not many consider the mental implications of this autoimmune disease. It’s rare to find someone (aside from another T1D) who understands the overwhelming sadness that overcomes a diabetic like me when, after giving up all my favorite foods, my blood sugar readings are still not within a safe, healthy range.

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Einstein would probably scoff at me saying that Diabetes is insane, because no matter how you do the same things every day, you learn to expect different results each time. Like, why is my blood sugar so high today? I haven’t even had a crumb to eat! Or when you meal prep, follow the same exercise routine and take the same amount of insulin as yesterday – but today’s readings are the complete opposite of what you got yesterday – although you did the. same. damn. thing.

I’m not me when I’m hungry…

A lot of people just don’t get it either when, after experiencing low blood sugar and scarfing down the nearest food in diabetic desperation, I just don’t want to talk or be my usual almost- cheerful self. It’s easy for them to decide that I’m just a moody, bad-tempered bitch – when in real life, I’m grappling with the fact that I almost died just now, and that I may have overcompensated for my low blood sugar by eating too much and will have to suffer the perils of high blood sugar later. Life (the diabetic one, at least) can be a vicious dog-chases-tail cycle sometimes.

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As if it’s not bad enough that all the delicious foods I like to eat (including beautiful coffee), there are so many other factors to consider when living with Type 1 Diabetes. Like the fact that stress (yes, that’s what I said) can send a diabetic’s blood sugars through the roof.

Now I’m not just talking about regular stress. I’ve experienced blood sugar spikes due to situations I didn’t even consider to be slightly stressful…and at first, I didn’t even notice what the causal factors were.

Netflix and Stress-me-tf-out

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For instance, when the zombie movie Cargo came out, I agreed to watch it during a Netflix and Chill segment. Halfway into the movie, my mouth was dry, I was breaking out into cold sweat and getting chills (not the kind I’d planned for) and my blood sugar reading was 22 mmol/L or 396mg/DL!

Another time, I was running late for a big job interview and was so nervous throughout the entire thing that when I came out and did a quick prick, my blood sugars had skyrocketed to 30.1 mmol/L or 541.8mg/DL! All because I was nervous and stressed out about being late.

Whether it’s job-related stress, relationship stress, anxiety, money worries, schoolwork stress, death even traffic can trigger blood sugar spikes in a Type 1 Diabetic.

But why?

The Biology of Diabetes and Stress

Let’s think about it from a biological perspective – when the body experiences stress (mental or physical), the adrenal glands trigger the release of glucose stored in various organs – as the body now believes that it needs all the energy it can get to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode.

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This is a common enough response for the average human – but for the unicorn of a Type 1 Diabetic, it could be detrimental. That’s because, even after the stress is experienced, the body still isn’t able to regulate the glucose and send it back from where it came. Instead, the Type 1 Diabetic suffers an episode of hyperglycaemia even they cannot account for.

Sadly enough – I thrive in stressful environments. I love a challenge and get high (literally) on situations that test my limits.

Call me Mrs. Adversity!

But I pay dearly for this bizarre habit of mine. I endure some crazy highs just by doing what I love (and I’m not even talking about eating right now), which often have negative effects on other aspects of my life. So to deal with it, here are a few of my coping mechanisms:

  • I drink a lot of water. For the day, I go through as much as 12L of water, sometimes more. Before you get all pious and start warning me of water poisoning – I promise you, it works for me.
  • I dance. Whether its a private twerk session in front of the mirror at home, or a some practice flairy-ing, this enjoyable form of exercise is actually quite relaxing.
  • I disappear. Sometimes, if a stressful situation is so bad, I know I have to just walk away for my health. So either I take a brief walk (if time allows), or just hole up in my room, put my phone on silent and play my Friday playlist to calm my nerves.

Disclaimer – stress does not affect all Diabetics the same way. This has been my experience and I hope this perspective helps you to understand the fickleness of the disease. If you’d like to talk more about this, send me an email, or leave a comment below.

On another note, don’t stress me out.

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