Stress and Blood Sugar
Stress is a big topic in the integrative community, because chronic stress has deleterious effects throughout the body. We talk a lot about its effects on the adrenal system, sleep, mental health, digestion, and this article will talk about one reason stress affects the cardiovascular system, the kidneys and your weight by elevating blood sugar. When you’re stressed, your blood sugar levels rise. The evolutionary reason for this is to supply the muscles and brain with extra energy to fight or flee. There are several mechanisms which are activated by the release of stress hormones which all individually increase blood sugar, and together can have a dramatic effect.
1) Studies have shown that acute stress affects the function of pancreatic beta cells to produce insulin, and less insulin means that blood glucose remains higher. 
2) The other effect is that stress hormones like cortisol stimulate gluconeogenesis in the liver, liberating stored glucose into the blood stream and elevating blood glucose levels.
3) High cortisol reduces the sensitivity of insulin receptors throughout the body so glucose is not taken up into the cells as quickly and remains circulating in the blood stream.
These three factors, reduced insulin production, reduced insulin sensitivity, and gluconeogenesis all work together to significantly raise your blood sugar. If you are not fighting for your life or running away as fast as you can, what happens to that extra blood sugar?
The kidneys have to work harder to clear it from the blood, which increases urine production and consequently can lead to chronic dehydration. Also, as excess glucose gets to the liver it will be stored as glycogen. When the liver has reached its glycogen storage capacity, the excess glucose is converted by the liver into fatty acids and returned to the bloodstream, where is taken up and stored as fat.
When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological changes the stress response brings about. Under normal circumstances, these changes quickly subside and present no long-term effects. When stress responses occur too frequently however, the body has a more difficult time recovering. It’s called stress-response hyperstimulation. A body that becomes stress-response hyperstimulated can maintain the stress response changes long after a threat has passed. These changes can cause a persistent increase in both blood pressure and blood sugar.
Fortunately, stress reduction techniques actually do help to promote faster recovery from stress responses and promote better metabolic balance. In-the-moment deep breathing, repetition of calming phrases, a brief walk outside can be utilized when recognizing the stress response as it is occurring. Regular exercise and meditation are proven stress reduction activities especially helpful for those who have become so used to stress in their lives that they don’t recognize the physical symptoms of stress response, and exercise also helps lower blood sugar because the muscles use it as fuel during workouts, just another reason to promote exercise as the ultimate stress-buster!
Lisa Murray, RDN, LD
 Eli Shiloah MD,Shula Witz, MD et al. Effect of Acute Psychotic Stress in Nondiabetic Subjects on β-Cell Function and Insulin Sensitivity. Diabetes Care 2003 May; 26(5): 1462-1467. http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/diacare.26.5.1462