Mental health effects of comorbidities

Mental health effects of comorbidities

When we talk about diabetes care and management or even obesity and weight loss, we talk extensively about diet changes and the importance of exercise, but one aspect that we ignore the most or leave out entirely is – mental well-being. Wondering how managing your mental well-being can help to control your blood sugar levels and weight?

Stress, anxiety, depression all affect your blood sugar levels and can lead to uncontrolled diabetes or diabetes-related complications. It also increases the production of fat cells and hence the weight gain. Taking charge of your mental health can help you keep your blood sugars and weight in control, along with other health conditions.

Studies suggest that stress and/or depressive symptoms can be a comorbidity for diabetes, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other complications.

What stress does to your body:

It increases cortisol levels: When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, two hormones that make one get into the fight or flight mode. The effect of the hormones is such that it increases heart rate, leads to shallow breathing, and releases sugar into the bloodstream for adequate energy to keep up with the demands of the situation. The net result is – high sugar level.

It can give rise to a stress-belly: You might call it a potbelly or in a more scientific term – abdominal obesity. Increased cortisol in the bloodstream increases hunger. Precisely, cortisol initiates higher secretion of ghrelin, the hunger-inducing hormone and suppresses leptin, the satiety hormone. Increased ghrelin levels trigger cravings for salty, sweet and fatty foods. It can also lead to emotional eating and binging habits. Coupled with a sedentary life, the outcome is a stress-belly or abdominal obesity.

It can alter your sleep patterns: As mentioned earlier, increased cortisol levels lead to high blood sugars. Suppose the body does not use this sugar through proper channels like burning calories through workouts or with proper diet tweaks. In that case, this increase in sugar levels can lead to irritability, restlessness, discomfort, excessive urination that hampers a restful sleep. Disturbed sleep or lack of it has been linked to blood sugar spikes and insulin resistance. In fact, irregular sleep and insomnia are also thought to be risk factors for prediabetes, diabetes and obesity.

It can lead to insulin resistance: Prolonged stress and high cortisol levels can affect the pancreas and the islet cells that secrete insulin. As a result, over time the pancreas might find it challenging to secrete insulin to keep up with the raised sugar levels in the bloodstream. This is called insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of developing prediabetes or diabetes. Or, if you have diabetes already, then high-stress levels can further worsen your health condition.

It can make you demotivated: Stress and other mental health issues often induce negative thinking that can highly demotivate you and deviate you from your healthy living habits. It can often lead to vices like smoking, alcoholism, and emotional eating, which can increase blood sugar levels and abdominal obesity.

What you can do:

To take control of your stress, anxiety or symptoms of depression, it is necessary to bring in a paradigm shift of your mindset and make specific behaviour changes that can help in the long run.

Behavioural changes can be hard, to begin with, but a little dedication and discipline can help one in a big way. For example, a recent survey done on 250 people with diabetes by a team of psychologists at Fitterfly saw that 83% of people were willing to bring in desired behavior changes to take charge of their health and bring down blood sugar levels. Furthermore, with proper counseling and education about the condition, about 70% of people felt motivated enough to stay on the prescribed course of treatment and attain healthy habits.

Remember that stress management to control blood sugars, abdominal obesity, and lead a healthy life needs more than meditation techniques and soothing music. It needs a scientific approach to behaviour changes that are sustainable and adaptable. If you are having problems dealing with stress and emotions along with blood sugar issues or obesity, giving a thought to digital therapeutics  is a good idea.  A proper psychological intervention can help one:

  • Manage stress in a better manner
  • Adhere to a healthy diet and proper exercise routines
  • Be timely with medication & health check-ups
  • Practice proper sleep hygiene
  • Positively control emotions and improve intrapersonal relationships
  • Have a positive outlook
  • Focus on healing and reducing risks of health complications

Neha Verma

A Clinical Psychologist (M. Phil) with 12+ years of experience in Consulting, Coaching and Counseling along with conducting workshops and seminars for Hospitals, Corporates, Schools and Educational Institutions. For more visit

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