Stress releases certain hormones, which can make it more difficult for insulin to work properly, resulting in a spike in blood sugar. Chronic stress may lead to high blood sugar levels.

Stress is a natural response the body has to danger. The fight-or-flight response raises blood sugar, allowing the body to stay alert and respond to threats.

If there is a prolonged stress response, such as from perceived threats in modern life, the effects of stress on the body may keep blood sugar levels high and cause negative health effects.

This article details how stress can raise a person’s blood sugar levels. It also looks at ways of managing blood sugar levels and stress levels.

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According to the British Diabetic Association, stress can raise blood sugar levels. Stress causes the body to release certain hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. People refer to this as the “fight-or-flight” response.

The release of these hormones affects how insulin works in the body and causes insulin resistance. Insulin resistance prevents cells from using glucose for energy as they typically would, which means glucose levels in the bloodstream rise.

Over time, prolonged stress can keep blood sugar levels high.

According to a 2022 review, stress may also relate to certain lifestyle habits, such as unhealthy diet or lifestyle patterns, which may cause weight gain and raise blood sugar levels.

Does anxiety raise blood sugar levels?

According to a 2019 review, high levels of anxiety cause the sympathetic nervous system to release hormones that increase cortisol and glucose levels.

This can also affect insulin, either by reducing the release of insulin or altering insulin sensitivity and resistance, which can raise blood sugar levels.

To monitor blood sugar levels, people can use a glucometer or continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

With a glucometer, or blood sugar meter, people take a small sample of their blood by pricking a fingertip. The glucometer will then measure the level of sugar in the blood.

A CGM uses a small sensor under the skin to take blood sugar measurements every few minutes. People can then read the results on a portable monitor or smartphone.

If people are using a CGM, they will still need to use a glucometer once a day to ensure the CGM measurements are accurate.

To help manage blood sugar levels when feeling stressed or anxious, a person may try:

  • getting regular exercise, which can increase insulin sensitivity
  • keeping track of blood sugar to identify any triggers that may cause levels to rise
  • eating at regular times throughout the day and avoiding skipping meals
  • eating healthy foods that are lower in saturated and trans fats, sugar, salt, and calories
  • eating healthy food portions, such as filling half a plate with nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate with lean protein, and the last quarter with a grain or starch
  • keeping a note of food, drink, and physical activity to help stay on track
  • drinking plenty of water and limiting or avoiding fruit juices, sodas, and alcohol
  • limiting sweet or sugary foods and choosing fruit instead
  • achieving and maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI)
  • getting enough quality sleep

Managing stress and anxiety may help support healthy blood sugar levels.

People may find the following tips helpful in managing their stress levels:

  • taking time out to do something calming, such as listening to music, meditating, or doing yoga
  • watching or listening to something funny
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine, as these can worsen anxiety
  • jotting down any patterns of stress or anxiety to identify triggers
  • exercising daily
  • breathing deeply or slowly and counting to 10 or 20
  • speaking with a friend or family member for support and advice
  • speaking with a healthcare professional or therapist

Learn more about stress and how to manage it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following can also raise blood sugar:

  • Sunburn: The pain can lead to stress, which raises blood sugar levels.
  • Coffee: Blood sugar may respond to caffeine.
  • Poor sleep: A lack of quality sleep can make it more difficult for the body to effectively use insulin.
  • Skipping breakfast: This can raise blood sugar after lunch and dinner.
  • Dehydration: Less water in the body causes higher concentrations of blood sugar.
  • Time of the day: It can be more difficult to control blood sugar as the day goes on.
  • Early morning: Some people may experience a surge in hormones, which can make blood sugar rise in people with diabetes.
  • Gum disease: Gum disease can cause a spike in blood sugar and can be a complication of diabetes.
  • Nasal sprays: Some may contain chemicals that cause the liver to produce more blood sugar.

People may wish to contact a doctor if they have symptoms of high blood sugar, which include:

  • increased thirst
  • tiredness
  • frequent urge to urinate
  • blurry vision

Detecting and treating high blood sugar as soon as possible can help prevent serious health complications.

If people have a blood sugar level above 240 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), they will need to test their urine for ketones. If ketone levels are high, it may indicate diabetic ketoacidosis, which requires immediate medical attention.

If people are experiencing long-term stress or feeling unable to cope with stress, they can speak with a healthcare professional. A healthcare professional can help a person find the support, coping methods, or treatment they need to feel better.

Stress causes the release of certain hormones, which can raise blood sugar. Long-term stress may lead to high blood sugar, which can cause health problems.

Healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and practicing relaxation, may help manage stress and blood sugar levels.