We are in strange times and need support to cope with chaos created by the Corona Virus. What we took for granted yesterday, now seems uncertain and fear abounds. I can’t do much about this virus invading our communities, but I did want to provide with some education and a few coaching tips that can help you manage the stress of corona.
Why People With Diabetes are at Risk
The CDC has identified people with diabetes at higher risk for “getting very sick” from COVID-19 or Corona Virus. There are two risks involved; 1) the risk of contracting the virus and 2) the risk of complications. Having diabetes alone does not make you more susceptible to becoming infected (#1). At present no one has immunity to this virus as it is new. It appears that if you are exposed, the virus will likely run its course. How sick you become from the virus is related to how healthy your immune system is and your overall state of health.
This is where diabetes comes into the picture. In the healthiest individuals reports say the virus symptoms may be like a mild flu. This is because their healthy immune systems and condition of homeostasis (the body’s state in perfect function and balance) fight against the virus and limit its damage to the body.
If you have diabetes, complications (risk #2) are higher for these reasons:
- Balance (homeostasis) is fleeting: we are manually controlling our blood sugars and there are times when are sugars are too high or too low (we are not in balance). In both of these conditions our bodies are out of balance and some of our body’s energy is being used to regain adjust to the abnormal blood sugar. This is energy that may otherwise be used to help fight off illness or other stressors.
- Diabetes complications: if diabetes has already damaged your organs or tissues, those systems don’t work as well. Diabetes primarily damages blood vessels (circulation) which are the body’s highway system to delivery nourishment and pick up waste. When someone with diabetes becomes infected the poor function of affected organs and impaired circulation weaken the body’s ability to fight off the disease and it spreads unchecked
The Effects of Stress
Many things stress our bodies: injury, illness, dehydrations, climate, worry, sadness, fear and on and on. Our bodies respond to stress by releasing anti-inflammatory hormones like cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol is great because it decreases inflammation and swelling. But it also releases sugar into your blood for as extra fuel to fight off the perceived danger.
If you are diabetic you have likely experienced this increase in blood sugar after a steroid shot (like cortisone) or during times of emotional stress. There is not much we can do to stop our bodies from releasing cortisol, so our best bet is to find ways to manage any stressors we can.
For the sake of this post, I am going to categorize external stress as things we don’t have much control over, like the COVID19 virus, working from home, etc. It is a fact of life right now and the best way to deal with this to follow the guidelines that have been set forth by CDC: social distancing, good handwashing, avoid crowds and stock up on your diabetes supplies. Do the best you can to avoid coming in contact with the virus.
Internal stressors are those things we can control. When so many things feel out of control, being intentional and thoughtful when it comes to stress is VERY important because it will help you manage blood sugar and improve your overall health. Remember emotional and mental stress can cause your body to release excess sugar and has been shown to weaken your immune system.
Stress causes pain. An actual injury hurts as much as fear can hurt. Both situations are valid. When people hurt their natural inclination to to move away from what hurts. With fear and worry it is common to seek relief by distracting ourselves. Often these distractions cause problems later on. It might be the good feelings you get from eating comfort foods, or the joy of buying something new, or the release of venting on social media, or the numbing effects of alcohol or drugs. These things feel good for a bit, but typically have consequences of regret later on – which is another painful stressor.
The persistence of emotional pain can lead to feelings of overwhelm, like things can never get better or there is no use in trying. From a diabetes perspective this is burnout and many people find it difficult to do the things they know they should. It wouldn’t be uncommon that the stress of the COVID19 situation brings about feelings of burnout.
Coping is the Key
Since we can’t due very much about the external stressors, it is prudent to focus on the internal stressors we can manage. New coping strategies reduce stress which in turn improves health. They are all tied together. Coping = less stress. Less stress = better blood sugar control and better immune function = Better health.
Coping is key because this stress is not a knowledge problem. We all know what we need to do to best care for our diabetes, yet when we are stressed making good choices is more difficult. So we need to deal with the stress.
Three Coping Strategies
The truth is these are stressful times and we are experiencing emotional pain which will cause us to seek comfort. How we go about seeking comfort can have good or bad impacts to our health. Here are 3 simple tools you can use to manage stress and make the best choices possible right now. Just today.
We can use images to reinforce healthy choices. Keep this visual in mind.
When responding to a painful emotion, we can choose a negative, quick fix (ignore testing, eat the treat, drink the wine, post on social media, lay around all day etc) and we feel better for a bit. Then suffer the consequences and feel regret for having high blood sugar, not taking care of yourself, being hungover, feeling stiff, etc. You choose the pain of regret and are right back where you started perhaps even worse.
You can also choose the pain of self denial, by not giving in to reactionary ideas and making other choices. It may feel awkward in the short term, but that feeling fades . You avoid the regret and reap the benefits of better blood sugar, clear head, pride in your actions, more money in your pocket and less physical pain. You choose the pain of self denial which creates lasting improvements and builds upon itself. (PS – you might even establish a new habit this way!
Stress and worry also create physical energy in your body that worsens the discomfort. Moving your body helps to dispel this negative energy. Simply stretching, walking, going up and down a flight of stairs, doing some jumping jacks or some planks and push ups, can take the edge off. Do it several times a day. Set a timer, and wiggle your body to let the stress out. And the activity will help circulation, digestion and stiffness. Win-Win!
The simple act of breathing also alleviates stress. When you take big, deep breaths that make you stomach expand, you also stimulate your nerve for calmness. Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops and when you exhale you let go of that nervous energy. Try this deep breathing exercise and repeat 5-6 times.
Breathe through your belly: In for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4, Out for a count of 4 – let everything go, Hold for a count of 4 repeat.
Notice how you feel before and after.
When you feel yourself getting stressed or worried, control something you can control with these simple tools. Its good for your mind, body, spirit and diabetes!
Stay safe & be well,
And the luck o’ the Irish be with ya!