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How I Manage My Glucose Levels When I'm Under Stress

By Karen Graffeo

Guest Blogger

Posted:  5/22/2014 9:44 PM


As I type this, my throat burns, my nose is drippy and red, and my ears feel sore and tingly. Oh… and my blood sugar? My blood sugar is running around 50% higher than I’d like, and every time I eat anything, it soars even higher. The stress of germs attacking my body makes blood sugar management harder than ever. My strategy includes running a bumped up temp basal, drinking lots of fluids, and constantly trying to remind myself not to let those out of range numbers aggravate me because that won’t help me rest and heal.

Being sick is just one type of stress that throws my blood sugars into a tailspin. I used to work in a support staff position in an extremely stressful office environment, and keeping my blood sugars in check was something I never quite figured out. Long hours, skipped lunches, and co-workers with bad attitudes meant my meter almost always showed higher numbers than I wanted to see. At the time, I was still on multiple daily injections and I often wonder how much better my blood sugar would have been if I was a pumper back then. I’m guessing my endocrinologist would have helped me set up some work day basal patterns that could have helped quite a bit.

I also find that travel stresses me out. Although I love exploring new places, I don’t love the process of actually getting to those new places. Travel prep is stressful because I always want to bring way more than I can carry, and I always worry I’ve forgotten something, especially important diabetes supplies. (FYI: I never have forgotten anything, but that doesn’t stop me from stressing that I will.) I also get really stressed about flying – getting to the airport on time, getting through security without issues, being sealed in that little metal tube (aka: the plane) for hours. Yeah, I’m not the best traveler. My blood sugar game plan? Watch my continuous glucose monitor, and when I see the inevitable spike starting to happen, I test and set a slightly higher temp basal to last mid-way through my flight. (The mid-point of my flight is when I finally start to calm down.) I test. And test. And test a lot. Correct as needed, but resist the urge to overcorrect. (Confession: I’ve caved to the overcorrecting urge and it always results in gobbling up glucose as I deplane because I’ve got a low blood sugar and a lot of airport walking ahead.)

Perhaps the hardest thing for me to remember is that not all stress is created equal, and stress doesn’t always make my blood sugar rise right away. Traumatic stress is a perfect example. A few years ago, my husband got mugged on his way home from work. He took several punches to his face and upper body before they grabbed his wallet and took off. We filed a police report and then took a trip to the ER. Luckily, he was fine, except for a gash and some nasty bruises, but that evening definitely left us feeling scared and stressed. Surprisingly, my blood sugars stayed stable. In fact, they were downright beautiful throughout the next day as we replaced the contents of his wallet and spoke to detectives. I definitely had expected my sugars to soar, and was really glad I didn’t try to be proactive and bump up my basal rates, because I’m sure I would’ve ended up with a lot of lows. It wasn’t until a few days later, when the feeling of trauma began to fade away, that my blood sugars began to spike.

All our lives would definitely be better if stress wasn’t involved, but unfortunately it makes its way in.  Do you have any strategies and stress busting tips to share?


Scott E

Posted on Fri May 23 00:26:39 GMT 2014

I recently took a long trip -- two flights each way, and had the plummeting blood sugars upon deplane-ing each time - I'm talking 50s with a down-arrow kind of low. I thought it was due to overcorrections as well as insulin not getting to the bloodstream quickly as a result of sitting immobile in the same place for six hours, and suddenly getting absorbed as I walked through the terminal.

After I got home, a friend/neighbor told me about the "baggage claim lows". Apparently, you should disconnect when the plane lands because the change in pressure could secretly deliver a ton of insulin. So I Googled it, and it appears to be true.

I'm not sure what Medtronic's official stance is on flying with a pump, but I know that I'm now going to disconnect when my plane lands from this day forwards.


Posted on Fri May 23 17:37:22 GMT 2014

Stress always affects my BG when I drive more than two hours anywhere. The only antidote for me is to do a temporary increase in my basal rate, and test, test, test. Thanks!


Posted on Fri May 23 17:54:47 GMT 2014

Hi Scott. Standard guidance around diabetes and travel doesn’t include disconnecting for air travel. Of course, you should always follow the individual recommendations provided to you by your healthcare provider. When traveling, we do recommend testing your BG more frequently, as factors such as travel induced stress, changes in activity levels and meal times, and types of food can all have an impact on your glucose levels. You can find more travel information here:


Posted on Fri May 23 22:40:41 GMT 2014

Thanks for sharing your tip with us, Stephen! We’re glad you have found what works for you.

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