Y our body responds to the way you think, feel and act. This is often called the “mind/body connection.” When you are stressed, anxious or upset, your body tries to tell you that something isn’t right. For example, high blood pressure or a stomach ulcer might develop after a particularly stressful event, such as the death of a loved one. Diabetes mellitus is yet another problem which manifests as a result of emotional upheavals in one’s life. And not just that, the emotional impact of the disorder adds on to the management challenges. High stress levels are today a leading factor in the development of diabetes.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the pancreas is either not producing enough insulin (or any insulin) in response to sugar entering the body. Or, where the body has stopped responding to the insulin production and the sugar is being passed through the body without being broken down, resulting in higher than normal blood sugar readings.
Type 1 Diabetes, what used to be called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), is typically seen (to be diagnosed) in people who are under 30 years of age. Type 2 Diabetes, previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), is typically seen in people who are over 40 years of age.
The ultimate understanding of the effect of emotional influences in diabetes rests on the neuro-endocrine mechanisms involved. When an acute stress occurs, the body system has a protective mechanism in place, a “fight or flight system” through the Hypothalomo-pituitary–adrenal Axis. The complex interplay between the nervous system and stress hormones is a system known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is a feedback loop by which signals from the brain trigger the release of hormones needed to respond to stress.
From deep within the brain, a wave of stress hormone speeds through the blood stream. What actually happens is that glucocorticoids (cortisol) and epinephrine (adrenaline) are released from the adrenal glands, and these hormones have a wide variety of effects on the body: increasing our cardiovascular capacity, decreasing our immune function, and increasing our ability to mobilise energy. When the stressful situation ends, hormonal signals switch off the stress response and the body returns to normal.
But in our modern society, stress doesn't always let up. Many of us harbour anxiety and worry about daily events and relationships. Stress hormones, secreted as a safety trigger, continue to wash through the system in high levels, never leaving the blood and tissues. The stress that plagues most of us is chronic stress; the kind that goes on for days and weeks. Chronic stress is not healthy for anyone but it is especially troublesome for people with diabetes because we do not need the additional glucose being continually released into our bloodstream.
■ Avoid worrying about things over which you have no control Instead, focus on managing your response to these kinds of events.
■ Focus energy on areas over which you have some control.
■ Spend your time and energy on trying to make the situation better instead of being anxious.
■ Take a walk, talk to friends, read books, write a journal and the like.
■ Breathe in through your nose, pulling the air deep into your lungs until you feel your lower abdomen has extended. Take in as much air as you can. Hold it, count five, slowly exhale through mouth. Do this several times.