Stress – How Does it Affect Diabetes?

Dr. Nikhil Eric Saldanha

November 18, 2022

We all experience stress on different occasions in our life. You can also define the condition as the demands of the situation threaten to exceed the resources of the individual. It is how your body prepares itself when it encounters a difficult situation. Several causes can cause stress. For example, a situation that causes frustration, nervousness or anger can stress you. In addition, if you worry about people around you or incidents around you, you can feel stress. 

For some people, the stress response can be beneficial in the short term as it allows them to respond to a situation quickly. However, if it persists, it may cause anxiety, which is very harmful to the body. It can cause issues like headaches, feeling of lethargy, diarrhoea due to an upset stomach and even constipation and nausea. In extreme cases, it may even cause other forms of mental illnesses. If you have diabetes, the situation can become even worse. Stress with diabetes can become an obstacle to managing your blood sugar levels.

Stress and Diabetes: The Association

Factually, stress leads to a significant effect on your body’s metabolism. It increases your respiratory rate and heart rate. When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. So, the body does give you an energy boost for a ‘fight or flight’ response. However, these hormones, when raised over a long period of time, interfere with the actions of insulin leading to insulin resistance. Since energy can not get into your cells, your blood sugar levels rise, and the muscles become less sensitive to insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar levels). 

It is your body’s normal response in stressful situations. However, if you have diabetes, your body finds it difficult to break that glucose and convert it into energy. As a result, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, which can cause a rise in blood sugar levels, worsening your diabetes.

If a person is diagnosed with diabetes and his/her load of stress doesn’t reduce, it can keep your blood sugar levels high and put you at higher risk of diabetes complications. It can also affect your mood, emotional health and behavioural health. 

Several studies suggest that stress is also a risk factor for chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Since diabetes and cardiovascular disease share some of the same causal pathways, it is essential to focus on eliminating any risk factor that can lead to these health issues.

Can Stress Cause Diabetes?

Stress alone doesn’t cause diabetes. However, some evidence establishes a connection between stress and diabetes. For example, a study on Swedish women demonstrated stress’s direct and indirect effects on diabetes. The study’s findings support perceived stress to be considered alongside other modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, researchers think that high-stress hormone levels can prevent insulin-producing cells in the pancreas from functioning properly and reduce the amount of insulin production. It, in turn, can contribute to developing type-2 diabetes. 

Another psychological point of view is that people often tend to overeat, among other things, when stressed. But unfortunately, overeating also leads to unhealthy weight gain, a significant risk factor for diabetes.

Stress from Diabetes

Since diabetes is a lifetime condition, people with diabetes can experience stress due to diabetes and its management. It is especially valid in the initial days when you have just been diagnosed, and you have to make many changes in your lifestyle and eating habits. 

Although a healthcare professional or an expert nutritionist would ensure that they give you a customised meal plan that is easy to follow, paying close attention to what you eat and having lots of new things to learn and remember can feel burdensome. In addition, remember to check your sugar levels, or regular doctor visits can also lead to stress. Finally, worrying about the results and risks of complications like heart attack, kidney disease, and blindness can also be stressful.

Some people with diabetes can also feel frustrated and distressed about having it sometimes. In addition, people also worry about getting complications, and some feel guilty if the way they manage their diabetes goes off track. It can be challenging and add to the stress. However, it is understandable to feel that way from time to time. The condition is known as diabetes distress, and many people experience it. 

Ways to Reduce Stress

Different techniques and methods can help you reduce stress. Besides taking preventive measures, people also employ various stress-relieving activities to reduce stress. 

Here is a list of a few activities you can consider if you feel stressed.

Increase Physical Activity

An excellent way to reduce stress is to move more and sit less. As per a study, regular physical activity has shown to be helpful in anxiety and depression. In addition, another study has shown that regular physical activity and exercise elevate overall mood. In contrast, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to poor mood and increased anxiety. 

Exercise and physical activity should not bother you too much as you do not have to do it daily if you can’t. A six-week study showed that you do not need to exercise daily to improve your stress. As per that study, exercising just twice per week can decrease stress levels. An excellent way to increase your physical activity is to walk or jog to the nearest grocery store.

Healthy Eating Habits

What you eat has a significant effect on your overall stress levels. Studies show that eating large amounts of processed foods and sugar leads to higher perceived stress levels. Also, research has shown that not eating nutritious food can cause a deficiency of vitamin B and magnesium that help in elevating mood. Stress can also cause you to overeat, which is harmful if you have diabetes.

Reduce Screen Time

Our digital devices are an inseparable part of our day to day lives. However, increased dependence on them causes various problems as well. 

Studies have shown that excessive usage of smartphones can cause increased stress levels. Another study showed that increased screen time could also cause lower psychological well-being levels in children and adults. 

Furthermore, research has shown that excessive screen time can also lead to poor sleep quality, contributing to higher stress levels. So, it is best to cut down on your screen time to reduce stress.

Self Care

Sufficient self-care is vital in keeping your stress levels under control. For example, reading, cooking, exercising, walking, getting a massage etc., can help improve mental health and decrease stress levels. 

Another way is aromatherapy, meaning that some scents have a calming effect on the mind. Studies point out that aromatherapy improves sleep quality and hence helps in decreasing stress levels and anxiety. 

Reduce Caffeine Intake

Caffeine has a direct and indirect effect on stress. As per studies, excessive caffeine consumption can cause stress and raise anxiety levels. Furthermore, research suggests that caffeine prevents you from getting good sleep, adversely affecting your stress levels. 

Different people have different levels of caffeine tolerance. Hence, you should decide how much caffeine you should have so that it does not make your stress levels bad. 

Practice Yoga

Yoga is one of the ancient and most effective techniques to reduce stress. As a result, people worldwide have been using Yoga as a tool for stress management. 

Yoga helps to calm the nervous system and improve stress response. Furthermore, several studies show that yoga improves psychological well being and reduces stress and anxiety levels. As per a study, yoga can enhance the secretion of a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, which elevates your mood.

Be Close to Nature

With most jobs becoming digital and the concept of work from home gaining popularity, we are compelled to be indoors most of the time. Going out in the open air can significantly reduce stress in such a scenario. 

Research proves that spending time in nature and green spaces can be very helpful in managing stress levels. A review of studies also showed that just going in a natural setting for just 10 minutes can improve perceived well being and perceived happiness levels. 


Some nutrients are necessary for managing stress levels in the body. For example, magnesium is an essential element that plays a vital role in stress management. As per a study, magnesium supplements can be helpful for people who experience chronic stress. Research also shows that other supplements like ashwagandha, vitamin B and Rhodiola can also help manage stress, especially in women. However, you should eat these supplements only after consulting with your doctor. That will help you avoid any side effects.

The Bottom Line

Stress is your body’s natural response to feelings like nervousness or threatening situations. However, your body’s natural reaction can be disastrous if you have diabetes. Extended stress levels can work against all your efforts to reduce diabetes complications. So, to manage your diabetes effectively, you must reduce your stress levels. There can be various ways of doing this. Some of these include: 

  • Regular exercising 
  • Yoga 
  • Spending time in nature 
  • Spending time with family and friends 
  • Cutting back on alcohol and tobacco 
  • Engaging in hobbies
  • Going to a psychotherapist for mindfulness-based stress reduction etc.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are the last stages of diabetes?

A. There is no such thing as the last stage of diabetes or the final stages of diabetes. However, when diabetes ails you for a long time or the amount of sugar in your blood increases to very high levels, it may lead to end-stage complications or advanced complications of diabetes. These complications may include albuminuria, chronic kidney diseases, heart failure, chronic artery diseases or stroke. Therefore, you must take all steps and preventive measures to mitigate the effect of diabetes on the body and prevent it from progressing to higher levels. 

Q. Can stress cause diabetes 2?

A. Stress alone is not a cause of diabetes. However, high levels of stress increase the risk of getting type 2 diabetes. High levels of stress can decrease the production of insulin. As a result, the glucose build-up continues in the blood unchecked. It may lead to type 2 diabetes in the long run. One should practice stress-relieving techniques to lower the risk of becoming diabetic. 

Q. What drink lowers blood sugar?

A.  Aloe vera juice can help in lowering blood sugar levels. Aloe vera consists of many laxatives, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids. Research has shown that aloe vera and aloe vera products can reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. In addition, it showed that eating aloe vera regularly can cause a significant improvement in fasting blood sugar levels. Besides reversing diabetes, eating aloe vera and aloe vera supplements has other health benefits like weight loss, relieving constipation, and preventing acidity and gas. 

Q. Is coffee good for diabetics?

A. As per a review of studies, coffee might play an essential role in lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That is because coffee improves sugar metabolism in the body. However, adding sugar or cream to the coffee may adversely affect blood sugar levels. Therefore, the best type of coffee for people with diabetes is decaffeinated coffee, as it has the goodness of all other components of coffee. Furthermore, you should also ensure that you consume coffee in moderation as it contains caffeine, and excess caffeine consumption may lead to side effects and increase stress. 

Q. Does type 2 diabetes get worse with age?

A. Diabetes is a progressive disease. Diabetes peaks in individuals in the age group between 65 and 74. A probable reason for this may be that you may put on more weight and exercise less as you get old, making it easier for diabetes to develop.  

Q. What is the miracle fruit that cures diabetes?

A. Jamun is widely regarded as the miracle fruit for diabetes. Since diabetes causes issues for two significant reasons- increased blood sugar levels and decreased insulin levels. Jamun targets both these causes together and hence helps cure diabetes. Jamun possesses antioxidant and anti-diabetic properties, which slow down the breakdown of sugar into starch. As a result, it prevents sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. At the same time, Jamun seeds are helpful because they increase the amount of insulin in the body, either by increasing its secretion or preventing its degradation. In addition to controlling diabetes, Jamun plays a crucial role in purifying the blood, easing digestion, improving immunity and increasing haemoglobin.   

Q. Can lack of sleep lead to diabetes?

A. Yes, lack of sleep not only makes you tired and irritated and impacts your body’s ability to regulate and break down blood sugar. Research has shown that even one night of sleep deprivation causes your body to utilise insulin inefficiently. The ineffective response to insulin by the body’s cells leads to more insulin secretion by the pancreas. As a result, the cells fail to absorb the blood glucose, and the insulin level keeps rising. As a result, it can raise your fasting blood sugar levels above what they should be. 

Q. Do diabetics get angry easily?

A. Yes, diabetes is known to cause mood swings. Higher blood glucose is generally associated with feelings of sadness. Diabetes is also associated with lower self-control, which leads to aggressive behaviour. 

Q. How do you calm down diabetes?

A. There are a variety of ways in which you can manage your diabetes. Exercising regularly, eating a balanced and nutritious diet, reducing stress, and cutting back on alcohol and tobacco are good habits to start with. When you do these things together, they help manage diabetes effectively and help prevent it.

Q. Can metformin cause anger issues?

A. Yes, metformin causes mood changes, irritability, anger and sadness. It is especially true for females over 60 years of age who take the drug for 1-6 months.

About the Author

Dr. Nikhil did Medicine (MBBS) at St. John’s Medical College and then decided to step away to do a Master’s in Health Psychology at the University of Stirling. On the way to that, he has worked with an NGO, Enfold, on teaching sexual health education in schools and colleges to create a healthy foundation for better sexual health in the nation. He has also worked as a medical content editor with Vinformax. He has now been working with HealthifyMe to bring in a renewed user-centric perspective concerning the users' medical conditions and to support the company with more effective digital tools and devices. He hopes to help improve the healthcare scenario in India.

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