The Link Between Stress and Diabetes

African Businessman Doing Blood Sugar Test at Home

Samantha was shocked when her doctor told her that her blood work showed she was pre-diabetic. Sam does everything right. She has a great diet, gets lots of exercise, and maintains an overall lifestyle healthier than most. She even felt somewhat offended that the doctor had scolded her for not exercising enough when she is far more active than any of her friends.

But what her physician didn’t know, is that Sam has been under a great deal of stress. Although she managed to keep up her healthy diet and frequent exercise, her mental health was suffering.  

Could this be the reason for Sam’s blood work results? Was her stress causing her to develop diabetes?  

What is Type 2 Diabetes?  

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t respond normally to insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas.  

This means that your body is not converting blood sugar into energy like it’s supposed to, causing the pancreas to produce more and more insulin in hope that your body will respond. Eventually, if your body isn’t responding, sugar builds up in your blood causing type 2 diabetes. This typically happens over the course of several years and can cause symptoms such as:  

  • Fatigue  
  • Blurry vision 
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Frequent urination 
  • Unintended weight loss 
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet 
  • Increased hunger 
  • Slow healing sores 
  • Depression 

Type 2 diabetes also puts you at risk for complications including heart disease, nerve damage, hearing loss, eye damage, kidney disease, and more, making it crucial to take preventative measures and recognizing symptoms early on.  

The Link Between Stress and Type 2 Diabetes 

Many are well aware of the role physical health plays in preventing conditions such as diabetes. The impact of mental health, however, tends to get less attention.  

“While stress alone does not cause diabetes, there is evidence that it can play an important role,” shares Orange County Health Psychologist’s specialist in psycho-endocrinology, Dr. Lily Munavu.  

“When you experience stress, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to activate your fight or flight response and give you extra energy. This is helpful in certain situations, but it can also make it harder for insulin to work properly, leading to insulin resistance and setting the stage for Type 2 Diabetes.”  

In addition, stress can cause you to neglect your physical health habits, further increasing your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.  

Managing Stress with Diabetes 

For those who develop diabetes, adjusting to the diagnosis and learning to manage the responsibilities that come with it often cause even more stress. 

Watching everything you eat, constantly monitoring your blood sugar levels, and giving yourself daily injections is not only overwhelming to adjust to, but is also overwhelming to maintain.  

This can create a vicious loop of diabetes-producing stress, that, in turn, worsens the diabetes, causing even more stress. Without the right skills in place it can be really difficult to break this cycle.  

Is Stress Putting Me at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?  

Everyone experiences stress differently and often the symptoms of stress can be so subtle we don’t notice them. However, even if we aren’t noticing or recognizing stress, that doesn’t mean that it’s not impacting our health.  

Stress occurs when your body is overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental, physical, or emotional pressures. This can be caused by major life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss, but can also come from everyday occurrences, interactions, and responsibilities.  

People who are stressed may feel anxious, sad, irritated, and/or angry, and can experience symptoms including: 

  • Headaches 
  • Nausea 
  • Fatigue 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Digestive problems  
  • Trouble sleeping 

If you are pre-diabetic, or have Type 2 diabetes, one way to determine whether stress is impacting your diabetes is by tracking your stress levels and blood sugar levels. Each time you test your blood sugar levels, also rate your stress on a scale of 1-10. Over time you will get a better idea of how stress may be affecting your diabetes.  

How a Therapist Can Help Treat Stress and Diabetes 

Working to reduce stress is crucial in both preventing and managing Type 2 diabetes.  

Engaging in mindfulness activities, deep breathing, meditation, and exercise are all great ways to manage stress, but may not be enough, especially when a chronic health condition like diabetes is at play. 

If you are having a hard time managing stress with diabetes, “working with a therapist who specializes in treating individuals with endocrine disorders can be a critical step in reducing symptoms and improving your quality of life,” says Dr. Munavu. “Learning how to manage your stress is crucial to managing your blood sugar levels.” 

Treatment for Stress and Diabetes in Orange County 

At Orange County Health Psychologists, we provide various methods of treatment including Stress Reduction Therapy to help patients address symptoms of stress in order to better manage their Type 2 diabetes.  

For more information on treatment for Stress and Diabetes, or to schedule an appointment, contact Orange County Health Psychologists by calling 949.528.6300 or emailing 

Written by Cassie Cipolla for Orange County Health Psychologists

About Lily Munavu, Ph.D.

Lily MunavuLily Munavu is a licensed clinical psychologist and a psycho-endocrinology fellow. Using a vast array of evidence-based therapies, Dr. Munavu helps patients with endocrine disorders such as diabetes and thyroid dysfunction who are affected by stress, anxiety or depression. Dr Munavu’s extensive clinical expertise also includes treatment of anxiety and depression, and working with patients navigating chronic illness, relationship issues, family conflict, grief, and life transitions. Dr Munavu currently accepts Medicare and welcomes new patients for in-person or telehealth appointments.

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