The days are getting shorter, the trees have lost their leaves, and department stores have already begun the endless loops of annoyingly catchy holiday tunes. Once again, the holiday season looms large in the near future, and the most organized among us have already started to prepare for family gatherings and gift-giving traditions. While the holidays are meant to be a time to rejoice and come together with loved ones, it’s no secret that planning for the festive season can also bring loads of unwanted stress for the average American.

For diabetic Americans, the holidays can spell out an additional layer of anxiety.  After all, the next few weeks are almost guaranteed to be filled with heaps of sugary treats, carb-laden feasts of binge-worthy proportions, and perhaps one-too-may syrupy eggnog concoctions. For anyone looking to keep an eye on their blood sugar levels, this can seem like an unfair and unwinnable test of one’s willpower and self-restraint.

Fortunately, we’ve prepared a list of helpful habits and practices that may help people with diabetes enjoy the festive frivolities without fear. Ensure you discuss your diabetes-management plan for the holiday season with your healthcare professional so you can stay happy and healthy this winter.

Holidays Can Be Difficult for Diabetics

One of the most important steps when approaching the holidays for diabetics is to have a firm understanding of the factors that are likely to disrupt your normal diabetes management regimen. This section will flag some of the most common facets of the holiday season that are likely to throw your diabetes management for a loop.

Stress

While sugar intake and diet are often understood as having the most direct impact on blood sugar levels, other biological processes can also have a substantial impact on your body’s blood sugar regulation. Stress is a classic example, and there’s no shortage of it during the holiday season. Your body is programmed to respond to stress as though each stressor is presenting a threat to your safety. As such, it is normal and natural for your body to prepare to respond to the stressor by fleeing the situation or confronting it head-on (what’s often called the “fight-or-flight” response). Part of this response involves mobilizing energy from your energy stores to prepare for the physical or mental exertion involved in dealing with the stressful situation. Because sugar is the body’s energy currency, this can mean that insulin levels drop and blood sugar levels become elevated during stressful periods.

Being mindful of the effects that stress can have on your blood sugar can help you predict and be aware of stressful situations, and help you prepare to deal with those situations accordingly. Worrying about the impact of present shopping on your finances, stressing about finding that perfect gift for your loved one, or even attending certain gatherings can all pose challenges that you should be mindful this season.

woman who is stressed outInactivity

We get it – the holidays are a time to unwind, to kick your feet up, and to stay warm in your home. But these tendencies can have an unhelpful effect on blood sugar.

As many diabetics likely know, there is a direct relationship between physical activity and blood sugar levels. Typically, though not always, physical exercise can reduce blood sugar levels by causing your body to make use of blood sugar to power your activity. The flip side of this effect is that periods of inactivity can nullify the helpful impact of exercise in managing blood sugar.

Food

Every amateur baker and chef looks forward to the holidays as a time to showcase their most scrumptious and decadent culinary creations. Unfortunately for diabetics, the constant presence of these treats can serve as a huge source of temptation to indulge in ways that can be difficult to manage from a diabetic perspective. Below, we discuss some tips to approach the holidays with a plan for keeping your nibbling in-check.

Plate of Christmas Cookies

Strategies for navigating the holiday season

Stay active

As we alluded to above, inactivity can be a significant source of difficulty over the holidays. Fortunately, the solution is simple (though not necessarily easy). While your instincts may tell you to stay sedentary over the holidays, there are plenty of fun ways to enjoy the winter season while also staying physically active.

Look for fun and festive activities that you can incorporate into your holiday traditions. Whether that involves lacing up your ice skates and heading to the local pond, hitting the slopes with friends, heading to the trails on cross-country skis, or launching an impromptu snowball assault with the kids, there are plenty of ways to stay active without making it feel like a chore. Even something as simple and wholesome as building a snowman can be a great way to get your heart rate up while also making memories that will last a lifetime.

For people in warmer climates, there are just as many (if not more!) opportunities to stay active this season. Take advantage of the time off from work or school to hit the beach, take a nice scenic hike with the family, or go door-to-door caroling to spread some holiday cheer. The most important part of being successful in this regard is to prioritize activity and find creative ways to build exercise into the time you spend with friends and loved ones.

While exercise can help lower blood sugar levels, this is not always the case, and some activities (particularly short and intense bursts of activity) can actually spike your blood sugar. For more information on the relationship between exercise and blood sugar, be sure to speak to your doctor.

Female exercising