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Diabetes and Anxiety: There’s Plenty to Be Anxious About

Diabetes and anxiety often occur together. Stress and panic attacks are involved, too. Read about diabetes and anxiety and learn how to manage them.

Diabetes and anxiety occur together so frequently that it seems as though diabetes causes anxiety. While that’s not quite the case, there is a relationship between the two difficult conditions. Wanting to understand and improve the health and wellbeing of the millions of people who have both diabetes and anxiety, researchers have been studying the combination ("Diabetes and Mental Health: How One Affects the Other"). They’ve found some staggering statistics.

Diabetes and Anxiety: If You Have Diabetes, Your Chances of Anxiety are High

Anxiety isn’t automatically a part of diabetes; however, people who have diabetes have a 20 percent higher likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder than those without diabetes. Additionally:

  • Forty percent of people with diabetes experience uncomfortable anxiety symptoms but don’t have a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
  • Approximately 14 percent of all people with diabetes have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is about three times higher than GAD among people without diabetes
  • Anxiety co-occurs with diabetes more often in women than in men.

These numbers apply to both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes and anxiety ("What Is the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?").

Not only do many people with diabetes have anxiety, but it’s possible that anxiety is a risk factor for the development of the disease. When doctors are diagnosing type 2 diabetes, they often consider anxiety among the other known risk factors such as lifestyle and genetics.

Clearly, there is a connection between these two life-disrupting illnesses. Looking at the link more closely can increase understanding of what’s happening and allow better treatment and management of both conditions ("What's the Link Between Diabetes and Mental Illness?").

Stress, Anxiety, and Diabetes: A Perfect Storm

High levels of stress and anxiety can make us ill in several ways. A common concern among researchers, medical professionals, and patients is that stress and anxiety might cause diabetes. There isn’t yet a definitive answer to the question of cause because much is still unknown about the relationship between stress, anxiety, and diabetes. However, many helpful discoveries have been made.

Diabetes, anxiety, and stress are intricately related:

  • Stress and anxiety negatively affect blood glucose (sugar) levels, causing them to drop too low.
  • Anxiety and stress are associated with increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol interferes in insulin’s efforts to get glucose out of the bloodstream and into the body’s cells, a problematic part of type 2 diabetes called insulin resistance.
  • The intense, ongoing tasks of diabetes management—monitoring blood sugar, diet, weight, exercise, insulin injections, and other tasks can cause create or intensify stress and anxiety
  • Worries about health problems caused by diabetes can be all-consuming.

Stress and anxiety exacerbate diabetes, which in turn creates more stress and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Breaking it, though, is crucial to health and wellbeing. Treating anxiety and diabetes can even help another anxiety-related link to diabetes: panic attacks.

Diabetes and Panic Attacks: There’s a Relationship

Panic attacks are sudden, short-lived experiences of intense anxiety. They can happen seemingly at random, with no trigger other than worrying about having one, or they can happen in response to intense anxiety, like the stress of having diabetes.

Anxiety over diabetes care and consequences can sometimes trigger panic attacks. This is annoying to experience but not dangerous. The problem with the link between diabetes and panic attacks is that the symptoms of panic attacks are similar to the symptoms of hypoglycemia, an episode of low blood sugar that can be a medical emergency.

Hypoglycemia and panic attacks share these prominent symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate/pounding heart
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Heightened fear
  • Intense anxiety
  • Nervousness

(It’s important to note that each has other, unique symptoms.)

The danger lies in mistaking a hypoglycemic episode for a panic attack. Assuming that your symptoms are part of a panic attack can delay treatment. Blood sugar levels will continue to drop, possibly resulting in coma or death. Even when you think the symptoms are part of a panic attack, it’s always wise to check your blood sugar levels to be safe.

Treating and Managing Diabetes and Anxiety for a Quality Life

Anxiety is common among people with diabetes. Unfortunately, it can interfere in diabetes treatment. It makes it difficult for people to comply with the many stressful aspects of managing the disease. Treating both anxiety and diabetes will improve physical and mental health and improve life. It can be daunting to know where to begin.

Often, starting with something these two conditions have in common is helpful.

Both anxiety and diabetes have a common denominator: stress. Therefore, developing a daily stress-management plan can help you feel more in control and able to follow through with diabetes monitoring and treatment. It’s convenient that many stress and anxiety management techniques also help diabetes:

  • Creating and following a healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Journaling
  • Engaging in a fun hobby
  • Yoga or Tai chi
  • Building a support network
  • Therapy

Although anxiety and diabetes are often interconnected, you don’t have to live miserably with both. Manage both, and you’ll increase your wellbeing.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). Diabetes and Anxiety: There’s Plenty to Be Anxious About, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/diabetes-and-anxiety-theres-plenty-to-be-anxious-about

Last Updated: May 10, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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