What’s the Link Between Stress and Blood Sugar Levels?

By Cliona Byrnes, RD

We’re taking a closer look at the link between stress and blood glucose levels in honor of Stress Awareness Month this April. We know that what we eat can impact our blood sugar levels, but you may be surprised to learn that stressful situations can also spike your blood glucose levels, both directly and indirectly.

How Stress Affects the Body

First, let’s break down the science. Stress may be emotional or physical e.g., illness or injury. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis, is a hormone-based system that regulates the body’s response to stress. Stress causes the body to produce more cortisol aka the stress hormone. Higher levels of circulating cortisol can lead to a reduction in insulin secretion. Insulin is needed to shift glucose from the bloodstream into our cells, where it can be used for energy. The reduction in insulin means that there is more sugar floating around in the bloodstream, leading to a rise in blood glucose levels. 

The Impact of Chronic Stress

At the same time our cortisol levels are increasing, the stress response causes a rise in our glucagon and epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) hormones. These hormones encourage the release of stored glucose into the bloodstream which can also spike blood glucose levels. While the stress response system should turn off after the stressful situation has passed, when stress becomes chronic, it can have a sustained negative impact on your blood glucose levels.

The Link Between Stress and Sleep

Stress can also indirectly increase blood sugar levels by impacting other habits like diet and sleep. Stress and sleep are both controlled by the HPA axis. If the body, or mind, is under chronic stress, the extra cortisol produced affects both the quality of sleep and our sleep patterns. It can lead to restless sleep, less restorative sleep, and reduced sleep time. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to metabolic health issues in the long-term, such as impaired glucose tolerance, or high blood sugar levels. 

The Link Between Stress and Snacking

Sleep deprivation can also increase food cravings, particularly for snacks high in carbohydrates, which can lead to elevated blood glucose levels. Emotional stress can also lead to overeating and it’s typically foods that are high in sugar and fat that we crave. If you find yourself reaching for a carb-heavy snack under stress, our Resist functional breath strips can stop those sugar cravings in their tracks when willpower is not enough. Our Stabilize capsules block carb and sugar absorption, which helps to minimize glucose spikes.

Managing Everyday Stressors

Modern life has made many of us overwhelmed with work pressures, social commitments, and not enough downtime. While we can’t always control the stressful situations life throws at us, we can try to manage stressors with self-care rituals that help to combat stress in the long-term. Practicing yoga and meditation have been proven to reduce stress levels. Breathing techniques and low impact workouts (we love p.volve) can also reduce circulating cortisol levels and help counterbalance the stressors of modern life. 

It's bad enough that stress impacts your blood sugar, so the last thing we want is for you to stress about your blood sugar - talk about an endless cycle! That’s why we created Reduce for daily blood sugar confidence. Two capsules in the morning promote balanced blood sugar levels and healthy insulin production throughout the day. And if you want to destress completely, check out our Blood Sugar Bundle for complete support