Stress: The Sneaky Contributor That Might Tip the Scales Toward Diabetes

The two biggest factors behind type 2 diabetes are diet and exercise. If you’re eating too much, eating unhealthy foods, and not exercising regularly, your chances of developing the disease skyrocket. But there’s another piece in the type 2 diabetes puzzle that we often forget about, even though it may be just as important—stress.

I know you’ve heard that stress plays a role in everything from colds to cancer to type 2 diabetes. But how much effort do you put into destressing daily or even weekly?

I think a lot of us forget to take the connection between stress and poor health seriously. Everyone is so busy and stressed all the time, it seems normal. But the latest research shows it’s time to address your stress—especially if you want to avoid or reverse type 2 diabetes.

The diabetes-stress debacle

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry recently discovered that a protein associated with stress may drive diabetes. The protein, FKBP51, helps regulate stress in your body and has a known connection to anxiety and depression. But it turns out, this protein is also a messenger between your stress control center and your metabolic processes. Here’s what happens:

When you’re stressed, your body produces more of this FKBP51 protein in your muscles. And having more of this protein in your muscles leads to a reduced ability to absorb glucose. That triggers high blood sugar and ultimately obesity and diabetes.

Now, this stress protein won’t necessarily cause diabetes on its own. But paired with the right set of circumstances—like a poor diet—it’s a recipe for disaster. In fact, researchers say that if you were to block the production of FKBP51, you could eat as many calories as you want and still not get diabetes. This protein is that important to the development of the disease!

Destress to dodge diabetes

So, what are the best ways to destress and keep your diabetes risk down, along with your risk of other diseases?

Well, you know better than anyone what makes you feel calm and relaxed. But for most people, meditation, yoga, laughter, warm baths, reading, spending time in nature, listening to music, and getting a massage seem to do the trick.

You can also try less obvious methods to destress, like:

  • Watching fish in an aquarium. Research shows watching fish in an aquarium can lower your blood pressure and heart rate—two markers of your physiological stress levels.
  • Taking more vitamin C. Vitamin C isn’t only good for your immune system. It’s good for your stress levels too. Studies show people with high vitamin C levels are more resilient to the mental and physical signs of stress.
  • Buying some houseplants. According to research from NASA, certain houseplants can reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Chewing gum. Chewing gum is a surprisingly simple way to feel less stressed. Research shows if you chew gum regularly, your anxiety levels will decrease in as little as two weeks.
  • Working on a craft. Being creative in any way, including by making crafts, is like a natural anti-anxiety pill. Research shows it relieves depression and stress and improves your mood.
  • Giving back. It sounds strange that taking on an added responsibility can make you feel less stressed, but in the case of volunteering, it’s absolutely true. Research shows people who volunteer feel less anxious and depressed than people who don’t. (Giving back can make you feel five years young too!)
  • Cleaning mindfully. The idea that cleaning can make you feel less stressed also sounds counterintuitive, but if you clean mindfully (staying focused on what you’re doing without letting your mind wander), cleaning is the next best thing to meditation. In fact, a 2015 study found that people who washed dishes while staying mindful felt less stressed afterward.

In conclusion

Type 2 diabetes is heavily influenced by diet and exercise, but stress is another contributing factor that we often overlook. Addressing and reducing stress in our lives is an essential component of avoiding or reversing type 2 diabetes. So take time to destress, lower your anxiety levels, and improve your overall well-being. Your body and mind will thank you.