Stress is bad for diabetes in two ways. In the body, stress hormones such as cortisol increase insulin resistance and blood sugar levels. In life, worry about the future and disruption of routine make it harder to focus on self-management and can worsen chronic health problems, including mental health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown can make life stressful in a number of ways, including causing fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or the loss of support services you rely on.
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People with diabetes face other COVID stresses, as well. Diabetes increases the risk of serious illness or death from COVID, so the threat of infection might make going to work or grocery shopping a source of fear. Additionally, diabetes self-management demands having regular patterns in one’s life for eating, sleeping, exercising, taking medications, and glucose monitoring. Now the COVID shutdowns have disrupted many social patterns.
There’s good news, though. Most people will admit that their old routines could have been healthier. In many ways, the shutdown can help us focus our lives and make self-management easier. To make this a positive time, here are 11 major COVID-related stressors and ideas to deal with them.
Regular food supplies might not be available, forcing us to work harder to find and prepare healthy food. Dietitian and diabetes educator Amy Campbell recommends: “Come up with a plan for meals and snacks to help you and your family are eat healthfully and regularly. If you need inspiration, check out quick meal ideas on our website or visit www.diabetesfoodhub.org.” And if you need it, sign up for food banks in your area.
If you’re worried about food availability, this might be a time to use other food suppliers. For summer and fall at least, farmers’ markets are well-stocked with food, and prices are often lower than in stores. Most regions have community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in which you buy directly from farmers and have the food delivered. Discount grocers are always on the lookout for food that would otherwise be wasted, and they sell it at affordable prices.
Daily routines might be disrupted by the shutdown. If you don’t have a job to go to or schools for your kids, what will get you out of bed in the morning? But there’s another way to look at this — you’re now free to create your own schedule. Pay attention and notice when your body likes to wake, arise, eat and rest. See about scheduling life to fit your body’s needs. You might notice more energy and better glucose control. You may find yourself sleeping more, as a way of coping with stress. That’s OK up to a point (but most scientists say more than nine hours a night is too much).
Exercise might be harder. Gyms and exercise classes, and even tennis courts and playgrounds, may be closed. On the other hand, there is less traffic on the roads, so walking or jogging might be easier and safer than usual. And you can always exercise at home. Here are some gentler movements to try. Campbell notes, “Doing just 10 minutes of physical activity can lower stress and anxiety, give your mood a boost, and make it easier to manage your blood sugars.”
Set a timer to get up every 30 minutes to do something physical, like walking or going upstairs. Gardening and yard work are great forms of exercise. By putting you in touch with nature, they might also reduce stress and provide more food.
If your job is closed or endangered, it’s normal to worry about money, one of the greatest stressors of all. The plus side is that jobs themselves can be major sources of stress, and having some time off can be healing. Perhaps use the time to exercise, to look for a better job or to rebuild social contacts that might, in turn, help you get back on your feet.
Fear of losing one’s home is a terrible stress, and it helps to make plans for what you would do in a worst-case scenario. Also, if the threat is serious, get some help from advocates like the Coalition for the Homeless, counselors or other people dealing with similar circumstances. Millions are currently threatened with eviction; you are far from alone.
For people who lost their health insurance along with their job, diabetes medications and care might become difficult to obtain. Ask your healthcare provider for help with this immediately. If you’re having difficulty affording medications and/or diabetes supplies, read “Resources & Financial Assistance Programs to Help with the Cost of Managing Diabetes,” “Save Money on Medicines” or “Prescription Assistance.” Consider applying for Medicaid or check out community health centers.
Focusing on diabetes management gives you something to think about besides COVID. Can you pay more attention to how you feel at different times, after different foods or medications, at different glucose levels? Perhaps you can use this time to improve your control.
Maybe others in your household can help with chores, meal preparation or food shopping. Additionally, many stores deliver and communities are arranging food delivery services for people who need them.
Our minds can also use support. Contact your doctor, educator, therapist or clergy person to get help with medical or emotional concerns.
You can also get peer support. In-person support groups might not be meeting, but there are a number of online peer support communities for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and other groups can be found on the websites of the American Diabetes Association and TuDiabetes. When you’re really stressed, there are helplines or warm lines you can call for support and someone to talk with. Now is a good time to call family and friends, too.
Turn off the news. COVID- and shutdown-related news is stressful. The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting exposure to news media. “Limit screen time: television, tablets, computers and phone. Turn off devices for some time each day, including 30 minutes before bedtime.”
The Mayo Clinic also reminds us we need to relax and recharge. “Even a few minutes of quiet time can be refreshing and help to quiet your mind and reduce anxiety.” Do relaxing things: take a bath, listen to music, spend time with animals or in nature, meditate, pray, read, watch a comedy video, or whatever works for you.
The CDC tells people to be careful; unhealthy coping methods can sneak up on you. Are you having trouble sleeping or eating? Are you worrying all the time or having more sad or scary thoughts? Are you using more tobacco, alcohol, junk food or other substances? If so, get help before things develop into a crisis.
Overall, times are hard right now, but you can use methods outlined above to change stressful situations or cope with them better. You might even come out healthier.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”
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