It was a foggy day in the Bay Area, and I could see the overcast skyline of San Francisco from my window. I had just cleaned up after eating a gorgeous green salad with salmon, dressed with an oil and lemon keto dressing. I chewed every bite thoroughly, as I’ve recently learned to do (since stomachs don’t have teeth!), and was curious to check my blood glucose to see how this satisfying salad had impacted me. So there I was, sitting at my kitchen table, getting ready to check my blood sugar.
To give you context, this was a full year after I started the Insulin Resistance Practitioner Training, where I received a certification as a blood sugar coach last fall before joining The Women’s Vitality Center’s coaching team. In the training, I learned so much about how dangerous insulin resistance is, and how many people are struggling to manage this pervasive condition. Since then, I’ve been checking my blood sugar frequently, as a matter of course, just to keep an eye on it.
During the program, I learned how close I myself was inching towards insulin resistance, with every year that passed. Even though I eat tons of fresh, organic produce, and have what I would consider to be a pretty healthy diet, there is a history of Type 2 Diabetes in my family, and I didn’t realize how risky some of my eating habits had become.
According to Benjamin Bikman, PhD, in his book, “Why we get Sick”, I am so not alone. Bikman cites a recent study which suggests that as many as 85% of adults in the United States may be insulin resistant. Bikman further goes on to posit that insulin resistance is at the root cause of nearly every disease in the world today.
Stress and Inflammation
When you think about how inflammation develops, it makes perfect sense. When cortisol rises as a result of stress, it releases glucose into the bloodstream the same way that eating does. But our bodies don’t know the difference between being chased by a tiger, or having a work deadline: it goes into the same mechanism automatically. So when we are dealing with constant or chronic stress, the body just cannot convert all that glucose into energy, and it winds up wandering around in the blood stream…..leading to systemic inflammation.
After having what I would consider to be an excellent, low-carb, highly nutritious salad, I fully anticipated that my blood sugar numbers would be under the target that I was expecting. It contained no croutons, no dried fruits, and I didn’t have any crackers with it.
To my complete surprise, this innocent salad spiked my blood sugar up higher than it had been in weeks! But as I thought through the hours leading up to my lunch, I realized that I had experienced a very fitful night of sleep, with a lot of mental gymnastics regarding something I’ve been grappling with.
I didn’t realize how stressed this matter was making me, since I was not present to any high alertness in my nervous system, wasn’t eating my salad in a rushed state of mind, was feeling grateful for that expansive view I have of the Bay Area, and generally speaking, was in a pretty good mood overall.
So even though I teach the 5 pillars of blood sugar in my program, “Sugar Shield”, and know full well that sleep and stress are two of those pillars, this was the first time I had a very clear indication of its impact through my own blood sugar tracking process.
This simple salad was not to blame for the numbers I saw on my Constant Glucose Monitor. It was the anxiety I had felt overnight that had kept me awake hours before!
Do you sometimes wake up in the night with an overactive mind? Are you going from one task to the next, rushing to do all the things life requires of you, feeling constantly behind? Does chronic stress just seem like the norm in your world?
Most people think of insulin resistance (or pre-diabetes as it is more commonly called) as being just about diet and exercise, and that if you stop eating sugary foods, your blood glucose levels will normalize. But they are wrong!
Stress has as much of an impact on blood sugar as diet and exercise, and if you are like most people in the world today, chronic stress may be affecting your blood sugar too.
The good news is, there are ways to mitigate the impact of stress on blood glucose levels, and doing so can lead to many other positive results as well. In the same way that shifts in diet and exercise can become lifestyle changes that have a lasting impact on our health, stress-management tools do the same.
Here are four recommendations for creating new habits to minimize the chronic stress that is truly an epidemic in our world today:
- Breathing practice: Develop a daily practice of sitting down and focusing on your breath. Even one slow, deep diaphragmatic breath will begin to communicate a different message to your nervous system. Deep breathing interrupts the cortisol response to stress, and keeps inflammation from developing. So much of the time we are shallow breathing without even realizing it! There are many great apps you can get for your phone, such as Calm, Insight Timer and others, that can support and inspire a daily practice.
- Appreciation: Whatever is going on in your life, give yourself the space to find gratitude. Find a way to make a habit of appreciating the things that are working in your life. It could be a journaling practice, or even setting a timer on your phone to stop, look around, and appreciate the flowers in your neighborhood, or a kind word someone said to you, or anything at all. Doing this regularly is another way of interrupting the stress response!
- Schedule time for fun: Did you know that you can change your biochemistry and your physiology by having fun? It’s true! Having fun can soften your muscles, and can absolutely release endorphins into your system, calming your nervous system. Even if it’s just a short burst of skipping, being playful with your pet, or dancing to a great song: bringing fun into your life on a regular basis can have a lasting impact on your health. And, what can I say? It’s more fun too!
- Sleep hygiene: For stress management, there is truly almost no better tool than to get a restful night of sleep on a regular basis. Whatever it takes for you to manage this, I encourage you to find a way. One bad night of sleep can actually create diabetic numbers in your blood sugar (as evidenced by my salad incident)! Try to get off screens of all kinds, one or ideally two hours before bed, have a warm bath, do a breathing practice, take a melatonin supplement, read poetry, journal, gaze at the stars: anything to help tell your body and mind that you’re winding down for sleep. Activities like these will start shutting down the monkey mind. (Don’t worry, it will be there for you the next day!)
I hope that this article has given you some helpful tools for managing your stress. Whatever you have going on, and no matter the external stressors in your life, your breath is right there inside your body, available to you to keep inflammation at bay! Adding fun, appreciation, and consistent sleep routines are also powerful tools to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
NOTE: You can always check your blood sugar with a finger stick, or, if you are diabetic your doctor may be able to prescribe you a constant glucose monitor. Even if you are not checking your blood sugar constantly like I do, it is responding to the events of daily life, rising and falling according to lifestyle habits, stress, diet, and the great variety of things life throws our way. So following your blood sugar can be quite illuminating!
If you have any questions, or would like to schedule a Discovery Call to discuss ways we can support you with managing your blood sugar, click here!