As rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and diabetes all simultaneously rise in the United States, one can’t help but wonder if there is a link between these health conditions. In recent years, many studies confirmed this suspicion; in fact, stress and mental health issues are intimately tied to diabetes. However, at the root of all these conditions, stress is the culprit that tends to create all other complications.

Stress, Mental Health, and Diabetes

Stress occurs in the body when we feel threatened. These threats can come in physical forms, such as being injured or ill, or in mental forms through problems in relationships, job, or finance. No matter what the cause of stress is, as soon as it comes into our experience our bodies quickly gear up for a fight or flight response.

To do so, first, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, allowing us to rapidly release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones then release the energy in our body’s stored glucose reserves, making it available to our cells in the form of blood sugar. With this extra energy, our body becomes better fit to respond to the cause of stress.

However, unfortunately, if the stress response is prolonged over multiple days, weeks, or months, our cells can become overwhelmed by constantly high blood glucose levels, leading to insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes. At the same time, excessive cortisol and adrenaline activate the fear system in our brain and promote inflammation, thus triggering anxiety and depression

Due to their common origin in chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and diabetes are typically found together among patients. In fact, among individuals with type 2 diabetes, 42% experience anxiety and 28% have depression.

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A Vicious Cycle

As these conditions develop simultaneously, each one can feed the other. For example, being diagnosed with diabetes can trigger excess stress and anxiety as patients fear complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage. This fear can then make patients feel overwhelmed, promoting depression.

Oftentimes, people will depression choose to self-medicate with comfort foods that are high in fat and sugar, which only further worsens diabetes. This cycle causes diabetic patients with depression to suffer more severe diabetes complications, which can, in turn, promotes more stress and anxiety. 

For that reason, if you have diabetes it’s imperative to talk to your doctor if you think they have anxiety, depression, or chronic stress.

Symptoms of Chronic Stress, Anxiety, Depression

Here are some symptoms to watch out for if you think you might be suffering from chronic stress:

  • Acne
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Frequent sickness or infection
  • Fatigue 
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased libido
  • Changes in appetite
  • Depression
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you are likely at an increased risk of anxiety and depression. Here are some symptoms of anxiety to watch out for:

  • Panic, fear, uneasiness, or nervousness
  • Nausea
  • Tense muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Cold, sweaty, numb, or tingling hands and feet
  • Being unable to stay calm or sit still
  • Trembling
  • Constantly thinking about worries

In addition to these, you should also be on the lookout for the symptoms of depression:

  • Hopeless outlook
  • Irritability in men
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Uncontrollable emotions
  • Contemplating suicide
  • Increased fatigue
  • Loss of interest in your passions
  • Feeling  guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling empty

Whether you are diabetic or not, if you are experiencing the symptoms of any of these three conditions it is best to seek help from your physician as soon as possible in order to explore treatment options. In addition to this, there are many avenues that you can start exploring now that will lead you to an improved quality of life.

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Moving Towards a Stress-Free Life

Reducing stress and improving your mental health can be quite easy and rewarding. Here are a few helpful practices for stress relief that you can start doing now:

Practice Meditation

Although meditation might seem simple on the surface, it is a powerful practice that can have profound effects on our lives. In fact, having a regular meditation practice is proven to reduce anxiety, prevent depression, and ease stress.

Although many often think of meditation as this far-off, esoteric practice only meant for yogis, monks, or hippies, in fact, 18 million adults in the United States use meditation. 

Starting a daily practice can be quite simple. All you need to do is sit in a comfortable position (preferably on the floor or in a sturdy chair where your back can be upright), close your eyes, and begin to observe your thoughts and clear your mind. 

Don’t be dismayed if your mind isn’t perfectly clear at first. Just like anything, practice makes perfect. If you’re new, try to meditate for just five minutes per day at first. Then, gradually, you’ll find yourself naturally more able to sit for longer stints.

As you take the time to truly listen to yourself, you’ll likely gain a lot of clarity about the sources of stress in your life, thus empowering you to make the adjustments necessary to avoid those stressors in the future. 

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Explore Breathing Techniques

Meditation often goes hand in hand with breathing techniques, and for good reason; these practices complement each other perfectly when used together, allowing for deeper states of relaxation. In fact, breathing techniques are back up both by ancient practices and modern science as effective tools for stress reduction. 

Although there are many breathing techniques out there, it’s best to start simple. One easy method is known as the 4-7-8 technique. To try this practice, sit up with your back straight and place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, allowing the air to make a whooshing sound
  2. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of four 
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 as many times as desired

This technique will likely leave you feeling calm, yet alert. Feel free to use it throughout your day, whenever you are feeling overwhelmed. 

If you’d like to explore other breathing exercises, we recommend Ujjayi breath.

Try Yoga

When breathing techniques, meditation, and restorative physical exercises are all brought together, you get the wonderfully relaxing art of yoga. Yoga is proven to decrease stress, alleviate tension, increase strength, improve flexibility, and lower blood pressure.

Although you might be intimidated by images of people standing on their heads or shoulders, worry not; yoga is a simple practice designed to meet everybody where they are comfortable starting. Practicing sun salutations, also known as Surya Namaskara, is a great place to start.

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