Tips for Managing Holiday Stress and Diabetes

We've all been there. Between the shopping, cooking and family gatherings, managing your diabetes can get lost in the holiday shuffle. While the season can bring lots of joy, it can also become stressful and hectic, causing you to let go of routines and often, overindulge in unhealthy eating habits. Stress can make it more difficult to maintain your blood sugar in normal range and also impact your mood. It’s important to acknowledge that you can enjoy the holidays and manage your diabetes by following these helpful holiday tips.

Understanding the Effect of Stress on Diabetes

Before we talk about managing your stress, let’s investigate why it’s especially important for those with diabetes. When your body is under stress, it releases hormones that can make your blood glucose levels go up, making it harder to manage your diabetes. Stress can also make it harder in general to focus on your health. You might be too stressed to follow a regular health routine, opt to eat unhealthy foods or skip exercising. For those with diabetes that are already challenged with keeping blood sugar under control, stress can compound the problem. Over time, it can wear you down mentally and physically.

Be Kind to Yourself

Are you planning to lose a couple pounds over the holiday season and see perfect blood sugar numbers? These are great goals, as long as you are careful about setting expectations too high, as doing so can just cause additional stress. Don't be hard on yourself if your blood sugar numbers are out of range occasionally. Give yourself credit for the little healthy things that you are doing, like staying diligent about taking your medications, adding in a walk, or skipping dessert. Building small victories into your day can reduce feelings of stress and boost feelings of success.

Make a Plan for the Buffet

The holidays are usually accompanied by endless food, and for a person with diabetes, the buffet table can be daunting. The secret to success is to be prepared! Want to stay on track before the party? Eat at home and plan to snack lightly at the event or eat a healthy snack like fruit or raw almonds before the party so you aren’t at risk of overdoing it. Rely on clever carb-counting apps like Calorie King or Carb Manager to keep track of what you eat. If you're hosting a holiday meal, incorporate healthy options into your meal plan. You might be surprised at how many of your guests will be thrilled with healthier choices. We all battle the temptations of holiday goodies!

Key Word: Moderation

No one wants to miss out on Aunt Tilly’s holiday cookies or Uncle Buddy’s turkey dressing! So simply have a taste and work it into your daily caloric intake. If you have small amounts of the goodies you crave, you can better manage your blood sugar and not deny yourself a taste of the holiday. Just remember to check your blood sugar normally and be mindful of your diet. Don't stress yourself out by striving for perfection and do what you can to set yourself up for success.

Be a Good Guest

If you're not hosting the holiday, be an excellent guest by offering to bring a dish to share with the party. This is a great chance for you to provide a delicious side or dessert that's compatible with your diabetes management plan. Preparing a healthy dish for the party is not only a great way to manage your diabetes but can put you in position to receive many compliments since it will stand out from the traditional foods. Regardless of its popularity, you will limit your cravings by enjoying your healthy dish.

Get Help Sharing the Load

The stress of creating the perfect holiday can be too much for one person to bear. Ask family members or friends to take a share of the work, whether that’s helping with decorating or cleaning, shopping for gifts, wrapping presents or bringing a dish to the holiday meal. Most importantly, don’t stress about the small stuff. At the end of the day, people remember the time spent together and not whether or not the sweet potatoes had marshmallow topping.

Walk and Talk

The focus doesn't always have to be food. Take some time to get moving this holiday season—a brisk walk after dinner is a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family. When you go holiday shopping, walk the whole mall. It’s super easy to become more sedentary during the holidays and exercise is known to help reduce stress which can also help to minimize pesky holiday weight gain. And don’t forget – doing holiday decorating and cleaning is good exercise too.

Reach Out to Friends and Family

Sometimes the stress of the holidays can be difficult, and at times, you might find yourself feeling a little down. The challenges of managing diabetes might seem magnified by the pace and activity of the season. You don't have to carry those feelings around on your own. A heart-to-heart chat with a friend or family member can be the gentle mental break you need to alleviate some stress. Sometimes, that talk could help change your perspective. If talking with a loved one isn't enough, reach out to a mental health professional to help you manage the stress of diabetes during the holidays.

Hopefully these tips will help you enjoy the holidays with minimal stress and maximum cheer!

[1] Diabetes and Stress. American Diabetes Association.

[2] Holiday Stress (2006). American Psychological Association.

[3] Diabetes and Mental Health (2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

[4] Holiday Expectations and Stress (2016). Psychology Today.

S7694_22-7025_enewsletter 2022_C Reviewed 11/17/22

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