Stress, Social Media + Staying Sane During COVID-19


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This article was published in April 2020.

Type 1 diabetic (T1D) Fitness Coach and Beyond Type 1 Leadership Council Member Eoin Costelloe (Insuleoin) tackles everyday diabetes issues in his new podcast. In this episode, Eoin records from his bedroom as he self-isolates at home in Ireland while chatting with his friend and producer Graham. They cover COVID-19 and its relationship to diabetes, offering some reassurance and giving advice on managing stress levels during this pandemic.

First thing’s first

Eoin: Something that’s crossed my mind since this whole thing has come out is the fact that there seems to be this universal attempt for people to reassure themselves that the coronavirus isn’t that serious. And they try and get this point across by basically saying, “Don’t worry everybody, don’t worry. It’s only the elderly and people with underlying chronic illnesses that are at risk.”

And it’s all well and good to try and reassure themselves, but it’s at somebody else’s expense. And that somebody else is myself and millions of people around the world with diabetes and other chronic illnesses. So, it can be tough on a person with diabetes when they’re scrolling through social media and all they’re seeing is, “COVID-19 – not that serious… Unless you have diabetes.” So, it can be very, very intimidating. Very daunting…

I don’t want people listening at home to think that the coronavirus is like a death sentence if you get it and you have diabetes. Because that is just not the case. So to reassure people out there: I’ve looked into it and I’ve seen numerous people around the world that have type 1 and type 2, of all ages, that have recovered.

Stress + diabetes

Graham: In previous episodes, we’ve talked about stress and how that can affect your blood sugars. I presume this comes into play when you’re constantly consuming so much media right now and the news comes on. I know for us, at six o’clock every night on the news, we see how many new cases in Ireland there are and the many deaths there has been. Surely, that’s going to cause stress.

Eoin: Yeah, there’s stress. Not even just around the whole coronavirus, but stress in general for diabetes definitely makes the condition harder to treat and harder to manage because when you’re stressed, your body’s natural reaction is to prompt that fight or flight response. Your body is in an uncomfortable position or situation and therefore, I  stress hormones are released like cortisol and adrenaline. And this is to kind of help your body either run away or fight. So, when you’re stressed psychologically about something, your body can’t differentiate between a psychological stressful event or a physical stressful event. When you’re stressed in your own mind, these stress hormones are being released. And just like with the virus, when glucose is released, your body will naturally release insulin to fight it off or to counteract it.

But for people with diabetes, our bodies don’t release insulin, so we can’t counteract these hormones on glucose naturally. If you’re stressed, adrenaline and cortisol are released and these will cause your blood sugar to spike up and it then adds more stress. It’s a vicious cycle. If you’re stressed, your blood sugar will bump up and then because your blood is pumping up, you get more stressed. But over the past couple of weeks, it’s difficult sometimes to watch the news because everywhere you look—newspapers, TV, radio, social media—it’s only talking about the virus. It’s like everything else in the world is just paused because this virus is going on and you will rarely hear the positive stories.

And because you’re just constantly bombarded with the negative stories and how thousands more are contracting, thousands more dying, it’s stressful and it’s uncomfortable to watch sometimes. And I feel that if you’re constantly absorbing all of this information, of course, your stress levels are going to rise. And because your stress levels are rising, your blood sugar management then can be affected.

Graham: So people can stay at home all they want, but they’ll be consuming the media and getting stressed out about it and that will affect their diabetes. Coronavirus can have an effect on you even if you’re just isolating in your room. It doesn’t even have to come into contact, it can get in your head.

Eoin: And if coronavirus gets inside your head, it’s going to affect your blood sugar.

In the meantime

Eoin: It’s important to keep yourself busy and try and take the time to do stuff that you wouldn’t normally do to kind of keep yourself happy. It’s funny, it’s like where we have more time than ever to do things that we have never done. And I think because of that, a lot of people feel under pressure to an extent. Because it’s like they see people online that are doing all these sorts of things and learning new skills. And you can feel a sort of pressure to do that because other people are doing it.

What works for me is to exercise in my garden and do my work and read books, but that might not work for another person with diabetes. What would relieve my stress and help manage my diabetes could be something completely different for a person with diabetes who is living in New York or Chicago. And it’s important for people to just be comfortable in their own space right now. Find what it is to keep you relaxed and happy in isolation. It could be watching 15 episodes on Netflix a day, it’s whatever will keep you comfortable.

Graham: And try and step away from the news. Try and avoid as much bad news as you can to keep that stress level down.

Listen to the full podcast here:


Check out another story related to Coronavirus—What We’ve Gotten Back: Lessons From COVID-19.