Does Stress Affect Your Blood Sugar?

We all know that dreaded feeling of stress — the increased heart rate, the clammy hands, the fuzzy brain, and the struggle to take a deep breath. Stress has an impact on much of the body's functioning, and this includes the regulation of blood sugar.

Our bodies need sugar to create energy and stay alive (via WebMD). Blood sugar, or blood glucose, comes from the foods we eat, mostly carbohydrates like bread and fruit. Glucose enters the bloodstream and insulin is released by the pancreas to "unlock" the cells to let it in, where it's used for fuel. If the body produces too little insulin (as is the case with people with type 1 diabetes), or doesn't respond to insulin as it should (in people with type 2 diabetes), glucose can't move into the cells, resulting in an unwelcome buildup of glucose in the bloodstream. Over time, high blood sugar can put a person at risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and eye disease. 

Anyone can experience high blood sugar and its unwanted effects. Besides diabetes, other factors such as stress can cause fluctuation in blood sugar levels that don't do the body or brain good. But with a healthy diet, exercise, and sometimes medication, you can get back on track.

Stress plays a part in blood sugar levels, too

Managing your stress, it turns out, is good for your blood. According to the American Diabetes Association, stress and intense emotions can cause blood sugar to spike and crash. When we experience stress, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are produced, kickstarting the liver to release extra glucose for a burst of energy (via Diabetes Strong). While this is important for doing something like fighting off a bear or running for our lives, when this glucose builds up in the bloodstream it can cause problems, especially for those who are insulin resistant.

"When chronically heightened, cortisol works against glucose control even in people who don't have diabetes," Dr. Roger McIntyre, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto in Canada, told Everyday Health. Chronic stress, brought on by living with the uncertainty of Covid-19, for example, can cause us to lose our health-giving routines, like exercising enough and eating right. "Not only does long-term stress cause chronic high blood sugar, but it can affect how you take care of yourself," Dr. McIntyre said. Working to reduce both short-term and long-term stressors can help improve your overall health, such as taking a less busy route to work, focusing on your breath, staying organized, getting exercise, and seeking support when necessary.