By Carol Kuzio and Leta Philp, Alberta Health Services
The body achieves what the mind believes - Napoleon Hill
February is the month of love. It’s the time where we do that extra special something to show our loved ones what they mean to us. But often, we forget to show the same care and attention to the most important person in our life: our self.
Self-care is a term you may have heard a lot lately. While we all have our own ways of emotionally refilling our cups, practicing mindfulness is one strategy that has been shown to decrease stress and improve overall physical health.
Mindfulness is about bringing awareness to what you are doing, observing your body for sensations of pain, tension or excitement (to name a few), as well as how you are feeling emotionally. For individuals who live with diabetes, mindfulness techniques can help with their blood sugar management.
Stress and diabetes
We all experience stress from time-to-time. Stress causes our body to release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that increase our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and blood sugar. Experiencing short periods of stress (acute stress) can be beneficial, as it helps us to focus if we need to meet a deadline or remove ourselves from a dangerous situation.
However, long periods of stress (chronic stress), such as ongoing problems at work or personal conflicts, can have a negative impact on our health. For people who live with diabetes, stress (acute or chronic) may cause your blood sugar to fluctuate or be higher than you would anticipate. Chronic stress can also affect emotions making us feel anxious, upset, and/or depressed.
Mindful-based stress reduction
Mindful-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a technique that can help calm your mind and body to help cope with stress. MBSR teaches mindfulness, which is an approach where an individual focuses on their surroundings and what is happening in the present moment.
When practicing mindfulness, you pay attention to your current thoughts and feelings, how your body feels at that moment, and your surroundings including what you may see and hear. Studies have shown that people who live with Type 2 diabetes and practice MBSR saw improvements in their blood sugars and mental health.
Where to start
To incorporate MBSR into your day, stop what you are doing, close your eyes and note how your body feels (e.g. how your feet feel in your shoes or touching the floor). Let yourself regroup and your mind settle before you return to what you were doing.
You can do this simple technique as often as you need. Other techniques and strategies on MBSR and practicing mindfulness are available online:
- Learning About Mindfulness for Stress (MyHealth.Alberta.ca)
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MyHealth.Alberta.ca)
- Mindfulness (Canadian Mental Health Association)
- Mindful Self-Compassion for Educators (EdCan Network)
- 10-Minute Wellness Activity: The Art of Centering (Sandbox)
Speak with your health care team about stress management. Your family doctor or diabetes care team can support you in learning more about these practices or connect you to resources in your local community.
Developing strategies to manage stress is as important for your physical health as it is your mental health. Take some time during this month of love to take care of yourself, love yourself, and be your own valentine.
Co-blogger Leta Philp is a registered nurse and clinical practice lead with Alberta Health Services’ Diabetes, Obesity & Nutrition Strategic Clinical Network™—not to mention a Calgary-based ‘cake boss’ who loves to surprise family and friends with her decadent creations (um, can you pass us a slice?!). An educator extraordinaire, Leta’s passionate about supporting adults and kids living with diabetes.