Our bodies and minds are connected in ways that are obvious and others that are more complicated. When explaining the mind body connection to patients and families, I often use the example of a teenager I saw who had vivid dreams, so vivid in fact, that when she dreamt of pizza one night, she awoke to a blood sugar over 200. Simply dreaming of a food impacted her body in a way that physically changed her.
That's the power of the mind.
Understanding this mind body connection is important, as it can be both a blessing and a curse. In the same way that happiness can positively impact your body, stress can negatively impact your body. The mind-body connection can happen both directly and indirectly. The direct path is similar to the example I provided above, i.e. the physical manifestation of a feeling releases some neurotransmitter, hormone, or starts some other process in the body that changes how you physically feel. So when you are very stressed out, your body releases a stress hormone, and this hormone can impact your blood sugars or it can impact your insulin sensitivity, etc.
The indirect path is anything that being happy (or on the negative side, being stressed) changes about your behavior, which in turn, changes how you physically feel. For example, if you are happy and feeling calm---then often you have more time, energy, and patience with health related tasks. If you are stressed and feeling overwhelmed---then often you have less time, energy and patience with health related tasks. Both of these feelings will likely change what you might do for your body, or your behavior, which will then impact your overall health.
Again, understanding this is important, because it means that you can change certain things that will have either a positive or negative impact on your body and health. Recognizing your personal signs of stress and burden can signal to you that it is time to assess the situation you are in and decide on a course of action. A few effective strategies to try and combat stress: take things off your plate in anticipation of stressful events that may be in your near future; tap into your "happy inducing" activities---for me that is dancing and when I can manage it, getting a massage; try to organize and check things off your list so that you see all you have accomplished; prioritize sleep (7-9 hours would be great); prioritize exercise, even a light walk can help calm you down; and finally, talk to others and seek out help from your support group.
Dr. Diana Naranjo is a Clinical Psychologist who works at the Madison Clinic for Pediatric Diabetes at the University of California, San Francisco.