It’s Spring Break – Time to Take a Diabetes Break Too?

It’s Spring Break – Time to Take a Diabetes Break Too?

For many of us, this is Spring Break week which means some time away from the routine of school.   A time to relax, regroup and recharge our batteries.   Our school systems understand the importance of this time away to play, explore and laugh without the demands of school work.  Our brains need rest to do our best.

Losing Sleep

The need for rest is also on my mind after losing an hour of sleep this weekend.  As we “Spring Forward” each year we sacrifice an hour of sleep, and I honestly don’t think it helps much in our 24/7, well-lit, always-working global culture.   But we lose that hour.   No matter how you prepare , you still notice the drag in your body the next day.    In fact rest is so important, that we are powerless to resist its pull after a while.  If we are forced to go without sleep, our mental and physical health suffers.  Our bodies need rest to do our best.

Your Body on Autopilot

Your body is magnificently architected to do most of what you need on auto-pilot.  The  nervous system is divided into 2 parts that complement each other with very little conscious input.  The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the “fight or flight” response, a high energy state of readiness, alertness and preparedness.   It keeps us on our toes ready to defend and attack anything that may threaten us.

The parasympathetic system manages the gentler “breed and feed” urges and “rest and digest” needs.  Where the sympathetic system is an aggressive and defensive function, the parasympathetic is a healing and restorative function.   This state is calm, relaxing and much needed in our busy, stressful lives.  Even more so if you live with the worry, stress and constant vigilance required to manage diabetes.

No Break from Diabetes

Unfortunately we can’t just “take a break” from diabetes, Spring Break or not.  We can’t just put it down for a while, then pick it up later when we feel like it.  No, diabetes is a screaming toddler, who must be looked after.  There is a price to pay for ignoring our little friend, and we suffer if we do.  If we consciously ignore our diabetes, our sympathetic nervous system screams to alert us to the trouble.  We crave water, hormones flood into our blood, our heart rate increases and anxiety skyrockets.  We are in “fight or flight mode” which is perfect if being chased by a bear, but not for everyday use!

A Place to Find a Break

If we all need a break, but can’t take one, what are we to do?  Breaks and rests are necessary!    We must have them to survive.  The key is to use your own “auto-pilot” to your advantage.   When you can’t take a break from managing diabetes, tap into your parasympathetic system for some “rest and digest”.  You can stimulate either of your systems just by breathing.

Try this exercise.  Inhale and exhale, panting very rapidly for a 15 seconds.  Take very short and shallow breaths, then notice how you feel.  Do you feel ‘keyed up’?, a bit warmer?, a bit anxious?  You just evoked “fight or flight”.  Now do the opposite.  Take three very slow, deep breaths.  Allow your stomach to expand, then exhale and allow your shoulders to drop.  Feeling a tad calmer? A bit more easy?  That is “rest and digest”!  You can use your breath to take a break whenever you need one.  Any place, any time.  It is quite the gift.  Use it often!

Choose


Another way to trick our nervous system is to choose to let go of worry.  If we focus on all the things that can go wrong with diabetes or all the times are blood sugars aren’t perfect, that worry  ignites the fight or flight functions.  Take a break by agreeing to focus on what is “strong with you, not wrong with you”.  It immediately feels better.  Maybe not perfect, but better.   This Spring, take a break from beating yourself up,  focusing on what didn’t go right, or how things are unfair.  Instead, choose to slow down, choose to take a breath (or 3) and choose to put worry in the closet.  Choose to “rest and digest” !  It’s just the break your body needs!

 

Peace (literally a LOT of peace to you),

 

Patricia

 

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