Did you know that there’s a strong connection between our blood sugar levels and our mental health? Even as a therapist, I was not fully aware of the impact until I became pregnant and developed gestational diabetes.
Before I knew I had GD, I was experiencing the usual symptoms such as intense thirst and sugar cravings, but I was also experiencing intense physical anxiety symptoms. I had experienced anxiety symptoms earlier in my life when going through external stressors, but this felt different. At the time, there was nothing that I was particularly worried about or concerned with that would be causing my anxiety to increase in this way.
The distress from the physical activation was so strong that it was impacting my ability to be present at work, relax at home, and sleep. I decided to go to the doctor to address my anxiety symptoms but was never presented with the possibility that it could have been issues with my glucose that was causing the anxiety symptoms in the first place.
Instead, I was given medication and sent on my way. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later when I had to take the required glucose test that every pregnant person must take, that I found that my body was not able to effectively regulate my blood sugar. I was told that my blood sugar levels were elevated and that I would need to change my diet and monitor my numbers by testing my glucose at least four times a day.
Luckily, through diet changes, I was able to keep my blood sugar levels at a healthy range and soon felt a quick drop in my anxiety symptoms as well.
During my maternity leave, I came across information from Dr. Kristen Allott that discussed the connection of blood sugar and mental health, specifically anxiety. The information obtained from Dr. Allott has been life-altering for my personal health journey and has helped expand my work with my therapy clients as well.
The symptoms of anxiety, anger, and hypoglycemia are very similar because they are caused by the same hormone, adrenaline. These hormones are the flight-or-fight hormones, anger to fight and anxiety to flight. When adrenaline is preparing the mind and body to fight or flee, it increases heart rate, respiratory rate, blood flow to skeletal muscles, blood glucose and decreases digestion, and stimulates the amygdala, the part of the brain that prepares for a quick response, to be ready to fight or flight.
The brain’s primary fuel is glucose. When your blood sugar (glucose) becomes low, your brain becomes concerned. In order to continue to function well, your brain will tell your kidneys to release adrenaline in order to increase blood glucose. Although your brain now has some fuel, the amygdala has been stimulated by adrenaline. This can cause your concerns, anxieties, or irritations to become amplified. This was what I was experiencing as my body developed issues with glucose control while pregnant.
Typical symptoms related to anxiety or anger can look like the following: Racing thoughts, obsessive thoughts, worrying about the future, reliving past events, hyper-vigilance, avoiding certain situations, restlessness, angry outburst, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, feeling light-headed, chills and hot flashes, and fatigue.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia can look like the following: Nervousness, trembling, increased heart rate, palpitations, increased sweating, hunger, irritability, decreased concentration, headache, fatigue, mental confusion, and severe signs such as unresponsiveness, unconsciousness, and convulsions.
Some ways to prevent hypoglycemia from occurring, according to Dr. Kristen Allott, include: (Please consult your doctor before changing your diet)
• Eat protein for breakfast (animal protein and/or plant protein) • Eat a small protein snack or meal every 2 to 4 hours • Eat something with protein or that is low in sugar, such as nuts, nut butter, or hummus with apples or carrots for snacks • Decrease portion sizes of foods that your body recognizes as sugars (sweets, breads, pastas, white rice, white potatoes) • Have food with fiber in them at every meal (vegetables, seed grains, beans, nuts, and fruit) • Limit alcohol intake. Always consume alcohol with food. • Find ways to be physically active each day (try and walk 10 minutes after a meal) • Try to only eat sweets soon after eating foods that have fiber in them • Take a multivitamin and pre and pro-biotic daily
Be aware of how you’re feeling after a meal and notice if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. Reach out to your primary care physician if you’re interested in having your blood sugar levels tested or if you suspect you might be struggling with metabolic health.
If you are interested in seeing your continuous glucose numbers based on your daily food and physical activity, visit www.levelshealth.com to receive a continuous glucose monitor that you can wear for one month while they send you live data about your metabolic health. Remember to also find a mental health therapist to help you navigate your health and healing journey.