In this article, I’m joined by Lauren Kim Angélil, registered physiotherapist and fellow health coach, as we share four unconventional ways to reduce stress, a topic area we know is key for those living with Diabetes.
You’ve probably heard that stress can have a negative impact on your health, but if you’re like us and many of the clients we work with, hearing this news can be more frustrating than helpful.
After all, stress is a real and unavoidable part of life. We all have important responsibilities and unique challenges, and the way our bodies respond to stress can even feel good sometimes! Stress response hormones like adrenaline and cortisol can give us energy, laser focus, and a sense of productivity and accomplishment.
In spite of this, stress has real consequences on health. In this article, we want to share four unconventional ways to reduce stress. They’re quick and easy, and probably not things you’ve tried before. In our experiences in healthcare, stress management is often the missing link in finding optimal health. These tools are a must-have if you want to go from feeling wired and tired, and struggling to find balance to feeling calm, happier and at ease.
We hope that this list not only inspires you but also gives you practical steps. If your normal reaction is an “eye roll” when usual stress management techniques are spoken about, this is for you!
Stress has negative health consequences for all of us, but especially for those with Diabetes. Stress has an impact on blood sugar control due to increased insulin resistance, disrupted sleep patterns, increased hunger, and increased inflammation.
The Problem with Stress
When we experience stress (physical, emotional, or mental) our bodies go into a “fight-or-flight” response. In order to prepare for the need to mount a challenge or run, the body responds with well-designed and potentially life-saving mechanisms.
- Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream
- Blood pressure and heart rate increase
- Glucose is released from the liver
The problem comes in when our bodies are daily challenged in this way… each time we read a bad news headline, are put under stressful deadlines at work, get frustrated while stuck in traffic, have a fight with someone we love, or try to sustain an unrealistic diet or workout plan.
Persistent stress has downstream health consequences for us all, but those with Diabetes need to be even more aware of this possibility. Unmanaged stress has significant impact on blood sugar control for the following reasons:
- Increased insulin resistance
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Increased hunger
- Inflammatory response, including things like weight gain
While stress is hard on the body, small changes to reduce your stress burden can help.
Four Unconventional Ways to Reduce Stress
- Give Yourself Permission for Play
The world isn’t lacking ways to increase happiness. Entertainment is at our fingertips, self-help books become best-sellers and every Tom, Dick and Harry can give their two cents about what can truly make you happy.
The truth is, you know what makes you happy. They’re those activities and people that bring a smile to your face leaving you feeling content, joyful, and uniquely you.
The problem is, giving yourself permission. It hardly happens, especially if you’re a type-A person who thrives on achievement and serving others. You don’t ever put yourself first, and often you feel guilty for doing it. The first of our four unconventional tips to effectively manage your stress is to give yourself time and permission to do something you love every day. It might be as simple as listening and singing along to your favorite song, taking a walk outside, or calling a friend.
It can also be as short as 5 minutes each day. You may ask, “what’s the point in taking just 5 minutes out? I’d rather just keep working”. The important aspect here is not the time, but rather the intention to prioritize your own well-being. This is all part of habit building, where you start small and celebrate your small wins.
- Practice Active Mindfulness
There is no shortage of meditation or mindfulness apps available on the market today. In spite of so many choices, we find that it can be hard to maintain focus on a mindfulness practice, especially when first starting out.
If you have wanted to try a meditation practice but found it hard to stick to, more active options include apps that pair abdominal breath, biofeedback, and sound, such as BioBelly Interactive Breathing app.
With BioBelly, you can place your phone on your abdomen, and in as little as three minutes, watch the app chart your level of calm based on your breathing patterns. BellyBio also incorporates sound, beginning with the sound of crashing waves, and as you get deeper into breath, switching over to meditative music.
- Start a “Notice” Practice
This is a twist to the regular gratitude practice, which we love because it’s both evidence-based and focuses you to think of the positive in your life, regardless of how small it is. However, it also can be difficult if you’re feeling down and out.
This is why we appreciate the “notice” practice. The task is to notice what is in your environment or on your mind. Notice one thing related to each of your senses. What you see, a sound, a touch, a taste and a smell. This practice immediately brings you to the present moment and increases your awareness of what is happening around you. It’s both simple and grounding.
- Plan Intentionally to Support Yourself
In life, stress is unavoidable. There will be hard conversations, losses small and large, illness, and long days. Acknowledging this, there are proactive steps we can take to prepare our bodies, spirits, and minds for difficult things.
If you know you are heading into a stressful day, consider what you will need to support yourself. Do you need a healthy breakfast? Do you need to wake up 15 minutes earlier and start your day with prayer or journaling? Do you need to text a friend and ask for support?
For those of us with Type 1 Diabetes, we also know stress can raise our blood sugar. Depending on the day ahead, consider if your insulin dosing should change in anticipation of a stress response.
Making small changes to manage your stress in a healthy way can have a large impact on your overall health and blood sugar. Our challenge to you is to start small. Select one of the unconventional tips we’ve shared and give it a try this week!
If you’re looking for a coach who can help you transform your stress levels, we can help. You can schedule a free consultation with me or with Coach Lauren (who specializes in supporting those with Type II Diabetes).