With our busy, fast-paced lives, we all experience some degree of anxiety and stress now and again. But if you’re living with diabetes, you may wonder if your anxiety is caused by the stress of diabetes management or due to fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
Anxiety and blood sugar levels share a close and complex relationship. People living with diabetes are more likely to experience anxiety. Additionally, the symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can mimic the symptoms of anxiety.
Understanding the relationship between anxiety and blood sugar can help you better understand your diabetes and support your mental health.
Anxiety and Blood Sugar
People living with diabetes are at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety. Research shows that they are 20% more likely to struggle with symptoms of anxiety than those without diabetes. Living with and managing diabetes can be stressful. Maybe you’re anxious about the short- and long-term effects of diabetes on your health. Maybe you’re worried about checking your blood sugar levels in public. Or maybe you experience finger prick anxiety.
Regardless, anxiety is among several factors that can affect blood sugar levels. High anxiety can cause the release of certain hormones that can increase both cortisol and glucose levels.
Although people with diabetes can experience anxiety, which can affect their blood sugar levels, it might not actually be anxiety causing you to feel nervous or shaky. If you’re living with diabetes and periodically experience feelings of anxiousness, it could be due to anxiety, or it could be due to a decrease in your blood sugar levels.
How Low Blood Sugar Can Mimic Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety and low blood sugar have some overlapping symptoms, which can make it hard to differentiate between the two. Common symptoms of both anxiety and low blood sugar include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
When your blood sugar drops below your normal range, you may experience an acute increase in epinephrine (adrenaline), a hormone associated with your fight or flight response (acute stress response), which triggers glucose (sugar) production in the liver. The increase in epinephrine can contribute to symptoms associated with anxiety, such as sweating, shakiness, and heart palpitations. Similarly, when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, the body releases stress hormones, such as epinephrine and cortisol, causing similar symptoms.
Low Blood Sugar: Causes and Prevention
Understanding the potential causes of low blood sugar can help you and your healthcare team determine whether your symptoms are anxiety-related or blood sugar-related. Checking your blood sugar levels is the only way to rule out if your symptoms are related to a low blood sugar event or another cause, such as anxiety.
Several factors can cause you to experience low blood sugar. This includes things like:
- Too much insulin or certain diabetes-related medications
- Strenuous, unexpected, or unaccounted-for exercise
- Delayed or missed meals
- Meals with minimal carbohydrates
- Alcohol consumption
- Excess insulin production after eating meals high in carbs or sugar
- Recent hypoglycemic event
In addition to following your diabetes management plan, regularly checking your blood sugar levels is one of the best things you can do to prevent low blood sugar or catch it early. An automatic blood glucose monitor (ABGM), like the POGO Automatic®, removes barriers to routine monitoring by offering a simple, fast, and accurate way to check your blood sugar, whether at home or on the go.
The American Diabetes Association recommends checking your blood sugar levels:
- Before and after meals
- Before and after exercise (and during long or strenuous exercise)
- Before bed
- After strenuous exercise (and in the middle of the night)
- If you have changes in your diabetes treatment plan or lifestyle (e.g., changes in your insulin regimen, an increase in exercise, travel across time zones, etc.)
Manage Your Diabetes & Support Your Mental Health
Understanding the connection between anxiety and blood sugar can help you better understand your diabetes and learn how to best support your physical and mental health. While managing your diabetes may only seem important to your physical health, it’s so much more than that. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress not only helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels but also promotes mental health in addition to a breadth of other health benefits.
Jaclyn Owens is a product director specializing in diabetes management tools. She is committed to using technology to empower people with diabetes and help them take control of their health.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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