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Can Stress Really Cause Diabetes?

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Over the years, researchers have been investigating the relationship between stress and diabetes. While it’s clear that stress has negative effects on our overall health, the question of whether it can directly cause diabetes remains up for debate. 

Stress and its impact on the body

Stress is an inevitable part of life, and it can manifest in various ways, such as emotional stress from personal relationships, work-related stress, or physical stress from illness or injury. When we encounter stressors, our body releases stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, to help us cope with the situation. These hormones trigger the “fight or flight” response, which can be beneficial in short-term stressful situations.

However, when stress becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on our bodies. Chronic stress can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones, which in turn can cause inflammation, suppress the immune system, and increase the risk of various health issues, such as cardiovascular diseases, mental health disorders, and metabolic disorders.

The link between stress and diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterised by high blood sugar levels due to the body’s inability to produce or effectively use insulin. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1, which is an autoimmune disease that usually develops in childhood, and type 2, which is more common and often related to lifestyle factors, such as obesity and physical inactivity.

While stress alone may not directly cause diabetes, it can exacerbate the risk factors associated with the development of type 2 diabetes. Stress can lead to weight gain, as it often triggers unhealthy eating habits, such as emotional eating and craving high-calorie, sugary foods. Additionally, stress can interfere with sleep patterns, which can further contribute to weight gain and affect insulin sensitivity.

Research has also shown that stress can directly impact blood sugar levels. When our body is under stress, it releases glucose to provide energy for the fight-or-flight response. However, if the stress is chronic, this constant release of glucose can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

On the other hand, people with existing diabetes may find that stress worsens their blood sugar control. In a study published in Current Diabetes Reports, researchers found that people with type 2 diabetes who reported high levels of stress had poorer blood sugar control than those with lower stress levels.

Managing stress to reduce diabetes risk

Given the complex relationship between stress and diabetes, managing stress is crucial for both preventing and managing the condition. Here are some effective strategies to help reduce stress and its impact on diabetes risk:

  • Prioritise self-care. Make time for activities that you enjoy and help you relax, such as reading, taking a bath, or going for a walk. Regular exercise is also an excellent stress reliever and has the added benefit of improving insulin sensitivity and aiding weight management.
  • Get enough sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, as sleep is essential for managing stress and maintaining overall health.
  • Practise mindfulness. Engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga, can help you cope with stress more effectively.
  • Stay connected. Building a strong social support network can provide a buffer against stress. Reach out to friends, family, or support groups to share your experiences and seek advice.
  • Seek professional help. If you’re struggling with chronic stress, consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you develop effective coping strategies.


While stress may not directly cause diabetes, it can significantly contribute to the risk factors associated with the development of type 2 diabetes and affect blood sugar control in those already diagnosed with the condition. By understanding the complex relationship between stress and diabetes, we can take proactive steps to manage stress, maintain overall health, and potentially reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Implementing stress-reduction techniques, such as regular exercise, prioritising self-care, getting adequate sleep, practising mindfulness, and seeking support from friends, family, or professionals, can help minimise the impact of stress on our physical and mental well-being. As research continues to uncover the links between stress and various health conditions, including diabetes, it’s essential to recognize the importance of stress management in promoting a healthier, happier life.

Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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