Tips for Dealing with Anxiety and Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD on October 20, 2017Written by Julie Ryan Evans

Overview

While diabetes is typically a manageable disease, it can create added stress. People with diabetes may have concerns related to regularly counting carbohydrates, measuring insulin levels, and thinking about long-term health. However, for some people with diabetes, those concerns become more intense and result in anxiety.

Read on to find out more about the connection between diabetes and anxiety and what you can do to prevent and treat your symptoms.

What does the research say?

Research has consistently uncovered a between diabetes and anxiety. One found that Americans with diabetes are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than those without diabetes. This was found to be particularly true in young adults and Hispanic Americans.

The link between anxiety and glucose levels

Stress can affect your blood sugars, though research tends to be mixed as to how. In some people, it appears to raise blood glucose levels, while in others it appears to lower them.

At least one has shown there may also be an association between glycemic control and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, particularly for men.

However, found that general anxiety didn’t affect glycemic control, but diabetes-specific emotional stress did.

Other has found that people with type 1 diabetes seem to be “more susceptible to physical harm from stress” while those with type 2 diabetes weren’t. One’s personality also seems to determine the effect to some extent as well.

Causes of anxiety for people with diabetes

People with diabetes may become anxious over a variety of things. These can include monitoring their glucose levels, weight, and diet.

They may also worry about short-term health complications, such as hypoglycemia, as well as long-term effects. People with diabetes are at higher risk for certain health complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Knowing this can lead to further anxiety.

But keep in mind that the information can also be empowering if it leads to preventative measures and treatments. Learn about other ways one woman with anxiety feels empowered.

There is also some evidence that anxiety may play a role in causing diabetes. One found that symptoms of anxiety and depression are significant risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of anxiety

While it might initially stem from stress or a stressful situation, anxiety is more than just feeling stressed. It’s excessive, unrealistic worry that can interfere with relationships and daily life. Anxiety symptoms vary from person to person. There are several types of anxiety disorders, which include:

While each disorder has distinct symptoms, common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
  • feelings of danger, panic, or dread
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
  • increased or heavy sweating
  • trembling or muscle twitching
  • weakness and lethargy
  • difficulty focusing or thinking clearly about anything other than the thing you’re worried about
  • insomnia
  • digestive or gastrointestinal problems, such as gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • a strong desire to avoid the things that trigger your anxiety
  • obsessions about certain ideas, a sign of OCD
  • performing certain behaviors over and over again
  • anxiety surrounding a particular life event or experience that has occurred in the past (especially indicative of PTSD)

Symptoms of hypoglycemia vs. panic attack

In some cases, anxiety can cause panic attacks, which are sudden, intense episodes of fear that aren’t related to any apparent threat or danger. Symptoms of panic attacks are very similar to those of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a dangerous condition in which a person’s blood sugar can become too low.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia

Symptoms of a panic attack

  • chest pain
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • hyperventilating
  • rapid heartbeat
  • feeling faint
  • hot flashes
  • chills
  • shaking
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • tingling or numbness
  • feeling that death is imminent

Both conditions require treatment by a medical professional. Hypoglycemia is a medical emergency that may require immediate treatment, depending on the person. If you experience any of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, even if you suspect anxiety, you should check your blood sugar and try to eat 15 grams of carbohydrates right away (about the amount in a slice of bread or small piece of fruit). Review the symptoms with your doctor as soon as possible.

Treatment for anxiety

There are a variety of anxiety orders, and the treatment for each varies. However, in general, the most common treatments for anxiety include:

Lifestyle changes

Things such as getting exercise, avoiding alcohol and other recreational drugs, limiting caffeine, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep can often help to calm anxiety.

Therapy

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to manage anxiety, your doctor may suggest you see a mental health provider. Therapy techniques used to treat anxiety include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you to recognize anxious thoughts and behaviors and change them
  • exposure therapy, in which you’re exposed gradually to things that make you anxious to help manage your feelings

Medications

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to treat anxiety. Some of the most common include:

  • antidepressants
  • anti-anxiety medications such as buspirone
  • a benzodiazepine for relief of panic attacks

The takeaway

There’s a strong connection between diabetes and anxiety. People with diabetes may want to manage stress through healthy lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, and other stress-relieving activities.

If you begin seeing symptoms that aren’t manageable with such changes, consult with your doctor. They can help you determine the best strategies for managing your anxiety.

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