• Dec 2023(updated on Jan 2024)

How does stress affect your glucose (blood sugar) levels?

How does stress affect your glucose (blood sugar) levels?
  • Although chronic stress is part of modern life, not managing stress levels can have negative health consequences.
  • Unmanaged stress can negatively impact your glucose levels and lead to long-term complications including heart disease and diabetes. (1)(2)
  • Luckily, you can take steps to reduce the stress in your life by getting regular exercise, finding relaxing activities, spending quality time with loved ones, and more. 
While what you eat plays a big role in your glucose (blood sugar) levels, managing your glucose isn’t just about your diet. One of the most overlooked factors is stress, and stress (especially chronic stress) can have a persistent negative impact on your glucose levels. (1)

Reducing your stress levels might be easier said than done, but managing stress is important for your overall long-term well-being. Ignoring stress can get you stuck in a cycle of glucose spikes and crashes, which can negatively impact your health. (3)

In this article, we’ll review common sources of stress and how stress, especially chronic stress, can lead to health complications down the road — including managing glucose. We’ll also review approachable and accessible ways to reduce stress so you’ll be prepared the next time you feel overwhelmed. 

Common sources of stress

While the below isn’t an exhaustive list, some common stressors include:

  • Poor diet 
  • Inflammatory foods
  • Lack of sleep
  • Finances
  • Relationships
  • Family
  • Responsibilities
  • Local and world news


Do any of the stressors on the list feel relatable? If so, you’re not alone. Stress is interwoven with everyday life, especially as we juggle packed schedules, important responsibilities, relationships, bills, and more. It’s common to not only feel overwhelmed, but also feel like you don't have the time or attention to effectively manage the stress in your life.

While you can’t magically get rid of all stressors, it’s important to identify what’s causing you stress and find ways to reduce and manage what is in your control. As mentioned, stress directly impacts glucose and your long-term health. (1)(4)

How stress affects your body

You’re probably familiar with what it feels like when you’re super stressed: you might feel anxious, have butterflies in your stomach, get a headache, feel irritable or impatient, or get fatigued. It’s not just in your head; there’s a physiological explanation for why you feel this way.

Here’s what’s going on metabolically: when you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which raises your glucose. (5) In fact, stress affects all systems of the body including cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, muscular, and reproductive systems. (4) Your body’s natural response to a stressful situation is activation of your “fight or flight” response, which causes immediate physiological changes like increased blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose. When your glucose dips after this initial rise, the fluctuation can leave you irritable, lethargic, and craving sweet foods.  

A positive example of this is exercise, which is stress on the body for a defined period. Once your workout is over, blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose lower as your body returns to homeostasis. In turn, desired adaptations occur over time as your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems get stronger.

The problem with repetitive or chronic stress (more commonly from the list above, although exercise overtraining can be a cause too) is that your stress response is constantly activated and becomes less effective while creating a harmful metabolic environment. When this happens, stress hormones are omnipresent causing increased baseline glucose levels; insulin doesn’t work as well, so more of it is needed even for small amounts of glucose. In turn, glucose spikes and crashes are larger, more frequent, and unpredictable. (6) This chaotic metabolic state is damaging over the long term and can lead to diseases including diabetes and heart disease. (1)(2)

How to manage and reduce stress

Knowing what stresses you out is the first step. While you may not be able to avoid that stressor entirely, try to find a way to lessen its impact. You’re unlikely to eliminate all the stress in your life, but start with what you can control and watch the impact reducing or managing stress has on your glucose. 

  1. Give yourself space: If you’re working on a task that is particularly stressful, take short breaks and step away to give yourself the space and time to mitigate stress. 
  2. Get regular exercise: Although we mentioned that exercise is one type of physiological stressor, it is “good” stress. And research shows that people who exercise regularly handle acute stressors better than those who don’t. (7)
  3. Meditation or breathing exercises: Meditation practices have been shown to lower stress hormones; (8) try finding a five-minute guided meditation on YouTube or in an app. Even simple breathing exercises can make a difference. Research shows that diaphragmatic breathing exercises specifically improve cortisol levels and people report less stress. (9)
  4. Find what relaxes you: Doing relaxing activities can lower your cortisol. (10) A luxurious bath, reading, listening to a podcast, going to yoga, getting a massage, cooking — anything that you find relaxing and helps you unwind can help lower those stress hormones. 
  5. Aim for quality sleep: When you’re super stressed, getting good sleep is easier said than done; high cortisol levels have been linked to insomnia, waking up during the night, and less sleep time overall (11). But quality sleep is essential when you’re feeling overwhelmed to help temper those stress hormones. Try adopting a wind-down routine before bed and incorporate breathing techniques and/or meditation before bed to get into a restful state. 
  6. Spend time outdoors: Spending 2 hours weekly in nature (city greenspaces count, too) has been shown to improve stress levels. (12) Go for a quick walk or bike ride outside and try and spend a few minutes in the sunshine (with SPF!). Pay attention to the scenery and environment, like beautiful flowers or birds chirping.
  7. Strengthen social connections: Having a strong social network of friends and loved ones has been shown to help improve overall quality of life. (13) Call up a friend, meet for coffee, or go for a walk with a neighbour — taking the time to chat and connect might be all you need to relieve stress.
  8. Tracking your glucose levels: Tracking your glucose levels can not only help you understand how different foods uniquely impact you, but also the effect of stressors on your glucose levels. Tracking your glucose can be done using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and a system like Lingo, which provides unique insights into your glucose patterns.


A final note from Lingo

Reducing stress can seem like a difficult task, particularly when it feels omnipresent throughout many aspects of your life. However, the effects of stress on your body can be damaging in the long-term, so it’s important to consider ways to help manage your stress levels. 

Once you pinpoint the biggest stressors in your life and identify what is within your control, set aside some time to destress. By prioritising stress management, you’ll be one step closer to living a happier, healthier life.

December 14, 2023



  1. Sharma K, Akre S, Chakole S, Wanjari MB. Stress-Induced Diabetes: A Review. Cureus. 2022 Sep 13;14(9):e29142. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9561544/

  2. Onyango AN. Cellular Stresses and Stress Responses in the Pathogenesis of Insulin Resistance. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018 Jul 9;2018:4321714. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30116482/

  3. Williams ED, Magliano DJ, Tapp RJ, Oldenburg BF, Shaw JE. Psychosocial stress predicts abnormal glucose metabolism: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (AusDiab) study. Ann Behav Med. 2013 Aug;46(1):62-72. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23389687/

  4. Chu B, Marwaha K, Sanvictores T, et al. Physiology, Stress Reaction. [Updated 2022 Sep 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541120/

  5. Kuo T, et al. Regulation of Glucose Homeostasis by Glucocorticoids. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2015;872:99-126. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6185996/

  6. Chrousos GP, Gold PW. The concepts of stress and stress system disorders. Overview of physical and behavioral homeostasis. JAMA. 1992 Mar 4;267(9):1244-52. Erratum in: JAMA 1992 Jul 8;268(2):200. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1538563/

  7. Childs E, de Wit H. Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Front Physiol. 2014 May 1;5:161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013452/

  8. Turakitwanakan W, Mekseepralard C, Busarakumtragul P. Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. J Med Assoc Thai. 2013 Jan;96 Suppl 1:S90-5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23724462/

  9. Hopper SI, Murray SL, Ferrara LR, Singleton JK. Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing for reducing physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2019 Sep;17(9):1855-1876. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31436595/

  10. Martin L, Oepen R, Bauer K, Nottensteiner A, Mergheim K, Gruber H, Koch SC. Creative Arts Interventions for Stress Management and Prevention-A Systematic Review. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018 Feb 22;8(2):28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836011/

  11. Kalmbach DA, Anderson JR, Drake CL. The impact of stress on sleep: Pathogenic sleep reactivity as a vulnerability to insomnia and circadian disorders. J Sleep Res. 2018 Dec;27(6):e12710. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7045300/

  12. White MP, Alcock I, Grellier J, Wheeler BW, Hartig T, Warber SL, Bone A, Depledge MH, Fleming LE. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep. 2019 Jun 13;9(1):7730. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31197192/

  13. Martino J, Pegg J, Frates EP. The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2015 Oct 7;11(6):466-475. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125010/

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