How to Regulate Your Nervous System as a T1D

Lauren Rapaport
Featured Podcast Episode
April 3, 2024

Calming the T1D Chaos Series (Part 1 of 3)
By: Lauren Rapaport


Living with T1D can mean a relentless state of high alert: Constantly checking your CGMs, fearing unexpected lows, and worrying about long-term complications. You make tons of decisions daily, clogging your mind and overshadowing the simple joys of life. It might seem like this chaos comes with the territory, but the reality is there's calm to be found among the craziness that is T1D. 

You simply don’t know how to access it. 

Keep reading to find out why T1D-induced stress is your body’s way of protecting you from danger, how to spot the signs, and 5 tips to create more calm in your body and your life.

✨ Survival states – what are they? 

When your brain perceives a threat, it sends your nervous system into survival mode (fight, flight, or freeze). When in a survival state, essential resources become unavailable, such as critical thinking, impulse control, and the ability to regulate your emotions. 

Ever found yourself in a low blood sugar haze, eating uncontrollably, only to snap back to reality surrounded by empty wrappers? When you’re low, you’re in the survival mode of fight-or-flight. 

What’s a threat? A CGM alert, fluctuating blood sugars, or a tiger chasing you down the street can feel like the same thing if your brain detects them as a threat and sends you into survival mode (fight, flight, or freeze). While these states are meant to protect you, they can become problematic when prolonged stress, like living with T1D and its numerous challenges, keeps you stuck in these states. 

The silver lining? With awareness and education, you can identify the signs and learn how to return to a state of calm.

✨ How do you know when you’re in fight, flight, or freeze? 

The characteristics of each state are outlined below. 

Fight: Prepares you to face threats directly. Fight is characterized by anger, rage, confrontation, hypervigilance, and restlessness. Symptoms include a fast heartbeat, tight muscles, and an adrenaline rush (adrenaline raises blood sugars).

Flight: Prepares you to escape the threat. Flight is marked by anxiety, panic, and worry, and a drive for constant busyness, and perfectionism. Symptoms include a fast heartbeat, quick breathing, and trembling.

Freeze: You become immobilized or frozen in response to threats. Freeze is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, shame, overwhelm, disconnection and a sense of detachment. Symptoms include a slow heartbeat, numbness, and exhaustion.

✨ Five tips to regulate your nervous system 

Once you’ve identified you are in fight, flight, or freeze, here are 5 simple tips that will help get you back to your state of calm and safety. 

1. Connect:  The most effective way to restore a healthy nervous system is through the support of others. Call, hug, text, or spend time with a loved one, a pet, or your local community. Connect with nature, put your feet in the grass, or feel your face in the sun. 

2. Breathe: Pausing for a slow, deep breath activates the nervous system response, improves oxygen flow, and diverts focus from stress. Take a slow deep inhale for 4 seconds, a momentary pause, and a prolonged exhale for 7 seconds. 

3. Move: Movement is magic for the nervous system. Pause for a gentle walk, shake it out, or put on your favorite song and dance. 

4. Legs-up-the-wall pose: Feeling jittery or activated? Got restless legs? Trouble sleeping? Try this pose and see for yourself how well this pose works for any of these issues! 

5. Create a safety mantra: To help guide you out of fight, flight, or freeze, come up with a reassuring mantra that makes you feel safe. This method is especially useful for low blood sugar (after being properly treated). Consider affirmations like, "I treated the low, I am safe" or "It will be over as quickly as it came". Store these in your phone, on a post-it on the fridge, or somewhere readily accessible.

✨ In summary 

Living in survival mode is quite common for individuals with T1D, given the significant stress you face. Establishing a daily practice of recognizing the signs and using the tips shared in this post can guide you back to a state of calm. Keep an eye out for Part Two of the Calming the T1D Chaos series, where I’ll take a deep dive into a personal story and demonstrate how to navigate out of the flight response.