When pressure hits, stress can kick in, impacting both mind and body. Stress affects almost all of us, and how we handle it can affect our overall health. Recent findings reveal that it can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This article explores the connection between stress and this serious health condition, as well as offering strategies to help prevent type 2 diabetes through stress reduction techniques.

Understanding diabetes

‘Diabetes’ is a general term for a number of conditions caused by the body’s inability to regulate how much glucose is in the blood. This happens either because the body is not producing enough insulin (the hormone that controls blood glucose levels) or because it is unable to use insulin effectively. 

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • type 1, where the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin
  • type 2, where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or the insulin doesn’t work well
  • gestational diabetes, where diabetes develops during pregnancy.

In Australia, 85–90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes include living with pre-diabetes, being at an unhealthy weight, family history and ethnicity (a full list of risk factors can be found here). 

It now seems that stress can be added to that list.

Stress and its impact on health

Stress is any situation that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. The different types of stress can be categorised as:

  • Acute stress – this is short lived and occurs in response to a specific event or situation, such as a job interview or an exam.
  • Chronic stress – chronic stress persists over an extended period and results from ongoing challenges such as work-related pressures, financial difficulties or health issues.
  • Episodic acute stress – this is short-term stress that recurs frequently. It is associated with events such as the bereavement process and dysfunctional relationships.

Chronic stress especially can have significant negative effects on both physical and emotional health. 

Physical effects of chronic stress

Chronic stress can lead to:

  • high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • impaired insulin effectiveness, potentially leading to insulin resistance (where the body does not respond effectively to the hormone, resulting in too much glucose circulating in the blood), pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • chronic muscle tension, resulting in neck or jaw pain.

Emotional effects of chronic stress

Chronic stress can lead to:

  • anxiety, irritability and mood swings
  • depression 
  • disrupted sleep patterns
  • cognitive impairment, which may affect memory, concentration and decision making.

The link between stress and type 2 diabetes

In stressful situations, our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in through the sympathetic nervous system. This triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream for energy. These hormones prompt the pancreas to release glucagon, which converts stored glycogen into glucose for fuel. Insulin levels drop due to stress, causing more glucose in the bloodstream and potentially leading to insulin resistance. Chronic stress can also increase diabetes risk by influencing lifestyle choices such as excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity.

Stress reduction techniques: an overview

Stress is inevitable, and how you respond to it significantly shapes its impact on your life. Using stress reduction techniques can be very helpful. 

Holistic stress management focuses on aligning the mind, body and spirit through various practices like lifestyle changes in nutrition, exercise and sleep. It includes mindfulness, meditation, yoga and complementary therapies. Cognitive techniques challenge negative thoughts with positive self-talk while social connections and journal writing aid in emotional well-being. Integrating multiple stress-reduction techniques can amplify their effectiveness, and it can be helpful to create a personalised stress-reduction plan that incorporates a combination of strategies based on your unique needs and preferences.

If you’re dealing with stress and feel that professional support would be beneficial, consult your GP for a diagnosis and personalised management plan.

Physical activity as a stress reducer

Exercise can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, which help improve your mood. It can also play a key role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Regular exercise causes your muscles to use more glucose, which helps in the management of blood glucose levels. It can also lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve heart and blood vessel health. Other potential benefits of exercise include helping to maintain or achieve a healthy body weight.

For more information on physical activity and exercise, including details on the Australian guidelines and tips for incorporating exercise into your lifestyle, visit the Life! program blog here.

Mindfulness and meditation

When we’re mindful, we are fully present in the moment, paying attention to what is happening right now. This can help us to stop thinking about the past and worrying about the future. 

Practising mindfulness, meditation and yoga can help reduce stress and promote a sense of calm. For more information on mindfulness and meditation, including tips for getting started, see here.

Dietary strategies for stress reduction 

Healthy eating also plays a part in managing stress. Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains can help you feel better physically and emotionally.

For information on what a nutritious diet consists of and how healthy eating can fight stress, see here and here.

Sleep and stress reduction

High-quality sleep is key for stress management. It helps to regulate cortisol and enables us to recover from daily stressors. During deep sleep, the brain processes emotions. Good sleep also enhances cognitive function, which helps with problem solving.

Poor-quality sleep can be improved by sleep hygiene practices (habits that help you get a good sleep).

These include:

  • maintaining a consistent sleep schedule
  • having a relaxing bedtime routine
  • keeping your bedroom comfortable and dark
  • limiting caffeine and screen time before bed.

For more information on sleep hygiene see here.

Social support and connection

Social support and connection are essential for stress reduction and promoting overall well-being. The term ‘social isolation’ refers to having insufficient social relationships or roles, while loneliness is a feeling of lacking connection to others. Research indicates that the risk of premature death associated with social isolation and loneliness is similar to that of well-known risk factors like obesity.

Social support is linked to better physical and mental health. Being in touch with friends, family and community can combat stress related to loneliness.

Professional help and stress management

Seeking professional help is crucial for managing chronic stress effectively. Professionals such as counsellors, psychologists and social workers can help identify causes of stress and develop strategies for its management. 

These strategies may include combinations of the following treatments:

  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) – teaches behavioural skills to manage stress, emotions and develop positive relationships.
  • Interpersonal therapy – helps individuals deal with people and challenging situations.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – integrates mindfulness with CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) principles that investigate the links between thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
  • Somatic psychotherapy – recognising the interconnectedness of mind and body, it focuses on the physical experiences, sensations and movements of an individual as a means to tackle emotional challenges.
  • Psychodynamic therapy – identifies the internal conflicts that may trigger anxiety.


Stress and diabetes are linked. Stress can cause blood glucose levels to rise and lead to unhealthy behaviours, which can lead to the development of diabetes.

Fortunately, treatment and support is available for both stress and diabetes.

The Life! program offers a variety of tools that can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Life! is a free healthy lifestyle program that helps you improve your eating habits, increase your physical activity and manage stress. You can choose from a group course or the Telephone Health Coaching service.

Our experienced health professionals will help you make small changes to your lifestyle so that you can achieve your health goals and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Life! is funded by the Victorian government and managed by Diabetes Victoria. You can check your eligibility for the program here.


Australia’s welfare 2021 indicators – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Australian mental health services – healthdirect

Diabetes resources – Diabetes Australia

Diabetes, 2022 – Australian Bureau of Statistics

Exercise and mental health – healthdirect

Food and nutrition – Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care 

Meditation – healthdirect

Mindfulness – Mental health and wellbeing – healthdirect 

National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing – Australian Bureau of Statistics

New research investigates links between stress, diet and type 2 diabetes – Diabetes Australia

Physical activity – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 

Physical activity and exercise resources – Australian Government of Health and Aged Care

Psychotherapy – types and benefits – healthdirect 

Sleep – Head to Health

Social isolation and loneliness – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Stress – normal versus problematic, fight or flight – healthdirect 

Stress and trauma – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Stress as a driver of diabetes – Diabetes Australia

Stress in young people – healthdirect 

Stressors and bodily pain, 2020-21 – Australian Bureau of Statistics

The Australian Dietary Guidelines – Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Types of Therapists – Good Therapy Australia

Why stress makes your BGLs rise – Diabetes Australia

Work-related stress – healthdirect