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Stress and Prediabetes: The Connection Is Stronger Than You Think

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

When you think about prediabetes, you probably think mostly about food. Eat too much sugar, and you develop a blood sugar imbalance, right?

While eating sugar — or other foods high in processed carbohydrates — can be a significant factor in the development of prediabetes, it isn’t the whole story. Our bodies are complex machines with many systems and processes. And while food is a primary factor in the development of prediabetes, it isn’t the only one.

Stress and Prediabetes

You know stress. You feel it every day. You wake up late, someone cuts you off on the freeway, you’ve got a big deadline at work, a family member is going through a hard time… There are countless sources of stress in our modern lives.

You already know stress produces physical symptoms you can feel. Your stomach tightens up. Your heart starts racing. You feel like your head is spinning.

But your body’s physical response to stress goes deeper than the noticeable symptoms. A stress response includes a biochemical and hormonal cascade that affects much more than what you feel on the outside.

And yes, stress does affect your blood sugar.

How Stress Affects Blood Sugar

You’ve probably heard of fight or flight mode. When you’re faced with a stressful situation, your nervous system enters a sympathetic state so it can prioritize survival in the face of something dangerous.

Back before we spent our days staring at computer screens and sitting in traffic, stressors used to fall into the life-threatening category. When you’re being chased by a wild animal, you need to be able to get away — and fast.

So our bodies evolved to handle stress in a physical way. When you’re faced with something stressful, your body changes its priorities. Things like rest, digestion, and healing all take a backseat. Your body starts a chemical cascade that will help you think faster, run faster, and even provide super-human strength if you need it. You’ve probably heard the tale of the mother who lifted a car off her child after an accident. I don’t know if that really happened or not. But if it did, that mother has her body’s stress response to thank.

But in our normal, everyday lives we don’t need to outrun a bear or lift a car. We need to meet the deadline, pay the bill, or get to the meeting on time.

When we experience stress, the body responds with the two stress hormones — cortisol and epinephrine (AKA adrenaline). When these hormones flood your body, you release stored sugar and fat to provide the energy needed to outrun or outfight whatever is causing the stress response.

In short, when you have to respond physically to stress, your physical activity burns off the extra fuel that gets dumped into your bloodstream. But when you’re reading the email from your angry boss, you don’t need that extra fuel. And you’re not going to burn it off sitting at your desk. So all that extra sugar that flooded your body is now in your bloodstream raising your blood glucose level.

If this happened occasionally, it wouldn't be a huge deal. Our bodies are resilient and they can handle the occasional emergency. But for many people, stress is a near-constant.

When you experience this stress reaction and subsequent blood sugar dump over and over again, it starts to cause problems. Consistent exposure to epinephrine and cortisol causes an insulin desensitizing effect over time (AKA insulin resistance). With long-term stress, epinephrine drops off and cortisol stays at a maintenance level. And that can contribute to prediabetes.

How Stress Acts Like Food

Consistently high cortisol and epinephrine levels will encourage a constant drip, drip, drip of glucose into the body. This raises blood sugar in the same way a cookie does. This not only causes insulin resistance, but usually weight gain as well. What's more maddening is that cortisol encourages fat accumulation in the middle of our bodies — the dangerous "visceral fat" that causes inflammation.

How many invisible stress cookies are you eating on a daily basis?

Most people cringe at the ludicrous suggestion to "remove stress from your life" when life's major stressors are NOT removable — work, kids, health concerns, financial problems, etc. What you CAN do is find ways to counteract the stress in your daily life.

Sitting at your desk stewing about the angry email from your boss isn’t going to do anything to lower your stress levels and blood sugar. But if you can find a source of rejuvenation that really works for you — and use it consistently — you can make a significant difference in your health and blood sugar balance.

The one-minute stress antidote I use every day...

Stress-reduction or rejuvenation techniques should be:

✔ Easy — if it’s hard you won’t do it, especially when you’re feeling the pressure.

✔ Enjoyable — you’re much more likely to fit something into your day if it brings you pleasure

✔ Portable — the best techniques can be used anywhere.

I prefer sprinkling stress antidotes throughout my day, rather than having one big rejuvenation session. It reminds me that stress reduction needs to be an ongoing part of my daily activities.

My favorite technique is diaphragmatic breathing. It’s easy, free, and can be done anywhere. And best of all — it's been researched and proven to reduce cortisol levels!

There are lots of diaphragmatic breathing techniques. A google search will give you loads of ideas. My favorite is the 4-7-8 Technique. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight seconds.

I set an alarm on my phone for every hour from 11am to 4pm to remind me to quietly shut my eyes and do three 4-7-8 breaths. This takes almost exactly one minute, so it's a quick stress antidote I can easily incorporate throughout my day. This is just one approach, but there are literally dozens of ways to cope with stress.

Here are some other ideas:

Meditation/mindfulness exercises

Guided imagery

Binaural beats

Autogenic training/self hypnosis

Progressive muscle relaxation

Emotional Freedom Technique/tapping

Therapeutic Tremoring


Tai Chi


Forest bathing



The important thing is to find something and do it EVERY DAY. That's the key to training your body's relaxation response.


Did you know that a steam sauna can improve blood sugar?

Yes, that’s right! And there are many other ways to improve blood sugar. Addressing prediabetes doesn’t have to be hard. Ready to improve your blood sugar without changing your diet? Sign up for my FREE mini course, 10 Ways to Improve Blood Sugar Without Changing Your Diet. It’s a free email course, and it’s a fast and easy way to learn 10 impactful tips to begin balancing your blood sugar TODAY! Learn more



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