Can stress affect my blood sugar levels?

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

There are several ways that stress may affect your blood sugar levels. Stress induces the well-known fight-or-flight response, in which your body increases its levels of certain stress hormones. These, in turn, cause a rise in the amount of sugar in your blood, where it's available to be used by your cells as fuel. If your body doesn't have enough insulin or can't use the insulin it has in order to get that blood sugar into your cells, your blood sugar levels remain high. Stress may also indirectly increase your blood sugar levels by causing you to abandon your good habits. When stressed, you may not eat well or exercise regularly, or you may drink more alcohol. These habits can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. In addition, you may not take time to check your blood glucose levels as often when you are stressed, so you may not be aware of the effects that the stress is having on your blood sugar levels. If you feel that stress is affecting your diabetes, talk to your doctor.

Stress can produce hormones that can shoot your blood glucose levels up and out of your desired range. Stress can also be a hidden contributor to unexpected swings in blood glucose levels. The effect of an angry driver who cuts you off on the interstate can’t be as easily measured as grams of carbohydrate, units of insulin, or calories burned during exercise. When you can’t figure out why your blood glucose level is so high despite “doing everything right,” think about the stresses in your life. Also, think about how you respond to stress. Do you eat when you are under stress? This can bring up blood glucose levels. Do stressful situations make you more active than usual? This response can decrease blood glucose levels.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.