Stress Spin Cycle
The balance of close monitoring and acceptance.
By Kerri Sparling
February 2008 — Between planning my wedding, managing my career, and making sense of my diabetes management plan, I feel like I've been thrown into the spin cycle of my washing machine. But it's tough for me to be easy-going and relaxed, for the most part. Being "chill" doesn't feel like part of my nature.
The effects of stress on my diabetes are almost instant, and pretty debilitating. I know that all of this cortisol coursing around in my body isn't good on several levels (contributing to higher blood pressure, hyperglycemia, impaired cognitive function ... wait, what was I saying?) and I completely believe that diabetes management is as much mental as it is physical. If I'm feeling overwhelmed with the tasks of "regular life," I'm less apt to pay rapt attention to my diet or take the time to dutifully monitor my blood sugars.
People who don't have diabetes are not as quick to understand this concept. I hear a lot of "Well, just test regularly and be careful with what you eat and calculate the correct insulin doses and you should be fine, right?" Ah, if only it were that simple. Unfortunately, the variables are never taken into account, like how stress hormones make my blood sugars shoot up into the stratosphere, or how it can be challenging to negotiate a busy workday and a bouncing blood sugar. Diabetes is a careful balance of close monitoring and acceptance: I need to closely monitor my numbers and do my best to stay as healthy as possible, but I must accept that this is a difficult disease to manage and perfection is not possible.
It's hard for me to determine if diabetes caused me to be more of a perfectionist, or if I would have been that way without the diabetes. Would I be type A even without type 1? Diagnosed when I was a small child and having essentially no memories of life before diabetes, I can't determine what caused what. All I know is that I am constantly striving to mimic the mindset of a fully-functioning pancreas, asking my brain to compensate for the shortcomings of my body. The burden of good health is placed upon every move I make, and the stress and guilt of that pressure is sometimes suffocating.
But stress leads to more troublesome numbers. I realized that I needed to stop the cycle.
In order to better manage my stress, I had to identify my stressors. Between work, personal projects, and the wedding, I often feel overwhelmed by the tasks that need to be done and instead of tackling the "to do" list, I end up intimidated and spinning my wheels. I needed to really isolate the things that need to be done and prioritize them appropriately. Knowing what truly takes priority and not assigning myself too many tasks can help me make better use of my time.
Over the course of the last few weeks, I have implemented the use of different breathing exercises to achieve a calmer state, because even if I'm trying my best to avoid stressors, they will still find me. Using articles I've found on the Internet, I've done some self-guided meditation to help keep me centered. Getting myself to bed consistently earlier (instead of letting midnight come and go without my head against the pillow) has helped me feel more relaxed and well-rested.
But above all, I'm learning to disconnect – literally and figuratively. With almost 90% of my day job involving computers and so much of my freelance work along the same lines, my computers and I are close buddies – way too close. I have made conscious efforts to keep the computer off at home some nights and instead enjoy the companionship of my husband-to-be. At first, I kept thinking about the things I needed to do, but after a few nights of disconnecting, it felt good to have a few hours to relax. Making time for myself to do absolutely nothing has made a huge difference in my stress levels. Stress management has been on the top of my list for the last few months, and I've finally given it the priority it deserves.
Visit Kerri's website.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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