Stress in Action!

I didn’t intend for April to be “Stress Awareness Month” on my blog, but I guess that’s what it’s become… and kind of an accurate depiction of how April is shaping up.

Probably every T1D blog that I follow has at some point touched on stress, and the totally uncontrollable, unpredictable way that it can upset our blood sugar.  It’s tough to forecast, tough to bolus for, and it’s almost always a bad surprise.  Because in the throes of a stressful/troubling/scary situation, the last thing any person wants to do is worry about something else! 

I had a recent day that was incredibly difficult.  It was an unusual day because not only did a majorly stressful and troubling situation present itself in the middle of my day, but it also prevented me from eating lunch (which happens, like, once a decade).  So I was able to get this pure unadulterated sample of me basically fasting between breakfast and a late dinner.  I ate breakfast at 7 am and did not have dinner until well after 7 pm.  I’m positive my basal rates are programmed appropriately because this does not happen on a “normal” day.  But check out this ugliness…

bs and stress

(things just kept trending uphill after dinner but I didn’t want this graphic to get TOO graphic…)

From 114 to over 200 with no food whatsoever!  If only there were a way to channel this in a positive direction… like when I wake up with a blood sugar of 70 and want to work out, why can’t I just WORRY for 10 minutes to make this a safe prospect? (although that would probably be a weird and unproductive way to start my day, huh?  I’ll stick with the meditation for now… but I can say from personal experience that on this day it did literally nothing to LOWER my blood sugar.  The mind is powerful, but insulin is a much better remedy.)

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Yes, there’s more.

I’m definitely guilty of “thumping a theme,” as one of my best friends would say.  But as I dug my way through what the internet had to offer re: “Type 1 Diabetes and Meditation” last week, I found a great article that I just had to share with those that might be interested.  The writer makes a pretty amazing case for meditation.  Here are some favorite excerpts:

Life stress is a big issue for all of us. For those who have diabetes, stress presents at least two problems: The direct effect of stress raises blood glucose levels, and we are most likely to engage in behaviors that are not good for our health when we are stressed. We may tend to eat more high-carbohydrate foods, or sit on the couch and watch TV instead of exercising. When stressed, we tend to become less disciplined and more self-indulgent.

And…

Diabetes self-care and meditation are both practices that require discipline and commitment. But the payoffs are tremendous for practicing them together.

Last, but certainly not least…

Reduced stress, better diabetes control, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose levels, greater self-awareness, better relationships, improved focus in other areas of your life, and less depression and anxiety are all potential benefits of including meditation in your routine. Making meditation a regular part of your diabetes management will enhance both your attitude and control.

Read the full text of “Meditation and the Art of Diabetes Management” here.

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All kinds of health.

I have not written anything about running in a while, because for the time being I’m just NOT running and it’s most helpful to me to NOT dwell on NOT running.  I have material for a million whiny posts about being injured, feeling ready to run again every couple weeks only to end up with renewed pain, about being misdiagnosed by specialists who only looked at one part of my body, and now to have been reunited with a doctor from my past whose knowledge I trust and believe in and who’s told me in no uncertain terms that I must take FULL REST from walking and running for a minimum of 4 weeks.  But I’m not gonna write about it.

Neither is Fernando.

When you injure yourself physically, it affects your functioning but is generally straightforward to treat — you ice, or rest, or go to the ER.  Psychological injury is harder to see and a lot more nefarious in its presentation.  Over time, you may develop problems sleeping, or find yourself increasingly irritable, forgetful, or distracted.  Stress can burrow into your shoulders and neck, causing headaches and muscle tension.  Or maybe it settles in your midsection, wreaking havoc on your digestive system.  It is so easy to explain any of these away (“ugh, I must have slept wrong,” “last night’s dinner didn’t agree with me,” “WHY IS EVERYBODY ELSE A JERK?”), and much harder to deal with the stress that is causing them.

Several months ago, when I complained to a doctor that being unable to run regularly had taken away my primary form of stress management, he suggested that I try meditation.  He cited a great deal of scientific research on the benefits of mindfulness meditation (this link is from Harvard so you know it’s the real deal).   Dr. G recommended a specific collection of guided meditations that I could download from iTunes, and suggested I try to use them for 10 minutes every day.

I was incredibly skeptical that sitting still and breathing could substitute for my usual sidewalk-pounding therapy sessions. But, being a model patient and general person-who-follows-instructions, I purchased the download, listened to it once before bed, fell asleep, and never thought about it again until this spring when I emerged from winter hibernation as a tense, scatterbrained, stressed-out mess with intractable heel and leg pain that had gone basically unchanged.  Except now I was also recovering from surgery on my wrist, so most exercise was off the table for at least a little while and I thought I had literally no where to turn for stress management.

NOT EVEN YOGA!

NOT EVEN YOGA!

Then, I read a book that absolutely changed my perspective.

On the surface, I have little in common with Dan Harris, the author, and in fact I actually didn’t even recognize his name because I don’t watch morning news shows.  To make the story very, very short: he works in the highly competitive world of television news, and the stress in his life brought him to a point where he had a panic attack on live TV, which, combined with a new job assignment, led to exploration into the world of mindfulness and an eventual meditation practice that he believes made him and his life “10% happier.”

coverI was captivated by this book, and I recommend it to absolutely anyone that likes to read.  I’d especially recommend it to anyone who believes that stress can only be dealt with through strenuous cardiovascular activity (what? I’m surely not the only one), or that their mind is simply incapable of slowing down (no way that’s just me…).  The book is a really interesting take on one person’s journey with lessons along the way that I really took to heart.  The most important?  That meditation isn’t really about sitting down and clearing your mind of all thought for 10, 15, or 30 minutes.  It’s about learning to live with your thoughts, and to let them go.  As my audio guide (which I now listen to almost daily so trust me, I know the words) says,

“if your mind wanders a thousand times, you simply bring it back a thousand times.”

I relate to the idea of meditation as a sort of long-term training.  I was able to run long distances not because I just woke up one day with a magical ability to do it, but because I trained and worked at it on a regular basis.  I was able to get my blood sugars into a healthy range over weeks and months, not one day.  Today I am one month into a daily meditation practice.  I haven’t had any supernatural experiences, I haven’t found enlightenment and on most days my mind is still like a preschool and I’m running late for work.  But I have come to appreciate the 10 minutes of silence and breathing as a way to start my morning, and I’m noticing small changes in my reactions to things and people around me.  In general: I find myself feeling less rushed, more tolerant, and my shoulders are further away from my ears than they were 30 days ago (also, when I take a yoga class I’m not just napping or making a mental grocery list during savasana!).

That link to the book above isn’t an affiliate link, I have no financial interest in this cause; I’m just hoping to share with the world a little something that’s helped me, and totally surprised me in the process.  There is literally no cost to trying it, no risk of injury or anything else bad happening.  Everyone has stress, and my experience has taught me that I need more than one method of managing it.  Just in case.

*another thing I really like about this book is that it introduces the reader to all kinds of other resources.  There are certainly more mindfulness-focused books out there, this is just more of a mainstream way to get introduced to them, which I appreciated!
**If you’re interested in learning more, that link in the 3rd paragraph has some very good introductory information.  And if you’d like to spend 78 hours learning, type “mindfulness meditation” into Google and have at it!
***And for those who are especially interested in this topic… there has been some research done on Type 1 Diabetes and Mindfulness Meditation!  Here’s a list of articles.

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