Since stress can affect the body and mind in so many ways, stress management is a very important part of any programme for coping with diabetes. It is clear that stress can affect certain aspects ofdiabetes, including blood sugar levels. Importantly, you can learn effective strategies that will help you to deal with it. Obviously smoking, alcohol abuse, the use of inappropriate drugs, and overeating are all common but poor coping strategies. True, these activities will distract you and perhaps delay the effects of the stress, but they can also hurt you and prevent you from coping with stress in a constructive way. So, what should you do?
Relaxation techniques and regular exercise can be helpful parts of stressmanagement programmes. Also, by thinking more appropriate and positive thoughts, you can go a long way towards reducing stress as well. But be realistic and remember that while stress can be managed and controlled, it cannot be eliminated. Your focus, then, should be on using the following 'Helpful tips' to help you to deal better with both the physical and the emotional effects of the stress response.
There are various ways of 'handling' stress:
• Relaxation benefits you in many ways. First, it can give your body a chance to rest and recuperate. Also, a stronger body can help you to deal better with stress and life in general. Relaxation will help you sleep better, is pleasurable and will increase your feeling of emotional well-being. It can also give you a powerful sense of re-establishing control over your life, despite the presence of a chronic medical problem like diabetes. There are many different types of clinical relaxation techniques, including meditation and deep breathing, hypnosis and bio-feedback (discuss the technique that would be most appropriate for you with your diabetes team). One technique that is often successful in combating stress is imagery, which is the process of formulating mental pictures or scenes in order to harness your body's energy and improve your physical or emotional well-being. In this case, of course, you will want to conjure up images that are relaxing and stress-free. Imagine not only the sights but also the smell, the sensations and the sounds. The more vivid your image, the more helpful it will be. Feel comfortable with whatever degree of clarity your image takes on. The degree of relaxation you'll experience is up to you, and will benefit only you - you are in control.
• Pinpoint the source of your stress. Try to objectively identify your stressors and pinpoint what specifically is causing you to feel stress. Maybe you are having a hard time with the symptoms of diabetes. Maybe you are tired of sticking to your treatment programme, or maybe you are just tired of thinking about diabetes. There are many possibilities.
• Identify your stress reactions. Once you have begun identifying your stressors, you will want to become completely aware of your responses to them. Are they more physiological or psychological? What parts of your body seem to be the most vulnerable? What kinds of reaction does your body have? As you become more aware of these things, you will develop a complete picture of your own unique stress response. This picture will help you to choose the coping strategies that will be most useful in dealing with your stressors.
• Eliminate stressors when possible. Once you re cognise the stressors that are causing the most trouble, try to determine whether you can eliminate them. Removing the source of stress is an obvious and logical way to manage it. For instance, if the task of managing your household expenses is causing you stress, you might talk to your partner and get that person to take over this task. Obviously, different types of stressors would have to be removed in different ways.
• Change your view of the stressor. What happens if you cannot eliminate the source of your stress, as is often the case? Then, the trick is to work on your interpretation of the stressors, using some of the techniques already discussed in 'Thinking Traps' on page 36.
• Use physical activity to relieve stress. Certain physical activities can be a great means of stress control. Exercise is not only a good way to release stress but can also be a very beneficial part of your diabetes treatment. Regardless of how diabetes is affecting you, there is certain to be a type of exercise that will help you to control your level of stress. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing, for instance, all allow for the release of tension. Obviously you should get your doctor's approval before beginning any increased physical activity programme.
• Use hobbies and other leisure activities to reduce stress. These activities are often very effective as they can divert your attention from the stressful situation and direct it towards something more enjoyable. They may also help you to feel more productive, and a lack of a feeling of productivity may be one of the stressors giving you problems in the first place! If you don't have a hobby, this may be the time to investigate something that has always interested you. If you are already involved in a hobby, you now have the perfect reason to indulge yourself whenever you can.
"One of the good things about having diabetes is that it makes a virtue out of enjoying myself. The little 'doctor' in the back of my head smiles when I go dancing or swimming, my prescription includes having fun.'
• Catch up on your sleep. Some people have difficulty sleeping when they are experiencing high levels of stress. But, when possible, prolonged periods of sleep may help you to reduce your stress to a more manageable level.
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