Does Emotional Diabetes Really Exist?

Many factors play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Are emotions one of those factors? Does emotional diabetes exist?
Does Emotional Diabetes Really Exist?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

“Do I have emotional diabetes?” You might be surprised by the number of type 2 diabetes patients who ask their doctors if their stress, anxiety, and negative emotions might be behind their diabetes. Is this even possible? Let’s find out!

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body can’t effectively process insulin, a basic and essential hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin helps convert the food you eat into energy. Insulin resistance (or limited insulin production) causes your body’s blood sugar to slowly rise, which causes many complications.

Stress and other emotional factors can affect many metabolic processes. For example, strong emotions raise your cortisol levels, which makes your body release more glucose.

Yes, there’s a complex connection between emotions and diabetes. If being stressed automatically gave people diabetes, 90% (or more) of the population would be diabetic. It’s clear that the development of this disease isn’t entirely dependent on the emotional factor. That being said, stress and anxiety can affect your lifestyle, which may lead to health problems such as diabetes.

A woman doing a blood sugar finger stick.

Emotional diabetes doesn’t exist

Diabetes is difficult to treat. It’s a major public health concern and increasingly more people are being diagnosed with it. Studies such as this one from Dr. Juliana Maina Wanjiru at the University of Manchester show that it’s more important than ever to educate people about the causes of type 2 diabetes.

Its growth rate and its effect on life expectancy make it impossible to ignore. Type 2 diabetes can go undetected for many years before the patient starts experiencing symptoms, sometimes not until they’re between 55 to 60 years old. Unfortunately, this chronic illness is also common in children. Here are some of the main causes:

What causes diabetes?

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, people develop diabetes because their bodies either don’t produce enough insulin or they can’t effectively process it. A series of factors can lead to insulin problems:

  • An unhealthy diet. Many people lack variety in their diet and eat too much sugar and processed foods. Eating habits are a key component of developing diabetes.
  • An increase in BMI (body mass index) and being overweight.
  • Hypertension.
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Genetics can also play a role.

Types of diabetes

As we mentioned above, emotional diabetes doesn’t exist. The only categories of diabetes are type 1 and type 2.

  • There’s a relationship between chronic stress and elevated blood sugar.
  • Your brain interprets high levels of adrenaline and cortisol as a sign that you need more energy.  As a result, it tells your body to release more glucose into your bloodstream.
  • That, however, doesn’t make you diabetic. Once those levels fall, people who don’t suffer from this condition quickly return to their normal blood sugar levels and normal metabolism.
  • If your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or you suffer from insulin resistance, however, it won’t be able to process this blood sugar spike.

What science says about diabetes and emotions

By now, it should be clear that no one gets diabetes from stress alone. That being said, the research we have on the subject has yielded interesting data that’s worth discussing.

Tel Aviv University conducted a study in 2006 on the relationship between work burnout and diabetes. It yielded interesting results. A large population study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology also reached similar conclusions. While we can’t talk about emotional diabetes per se, when you combine the emotional component with other factors, it can play a significant role in the development of diabetes.

Depression and chronic burnout can change your lifestyle and be a clinical predictor of incident diabetes

Picture someone who’s been experiencing burnout at their job for years. Over time, they develop depression, and their entire lifestyle changes. They change the way they eat, they become more sedentary, and they develop insomnia. All of these changes are risk factors for diabetes.

In conclusion, there’s no direct connection between negative emotions and diabetes. Emotional diabetes simply doesn’t exist. Factors such as depression, however, often change certain behavior and eating patterns, which could lead to diabetes. Mental and physical health are connected, so take care of yourself!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Engum A. The role of depression and anxiety in onset of diabetes in a large population-based study. J Psychosom Res 62:31-38, 2007
  • Helgeson, V. S., Van Vleet, M., & Zajdel, M. (2020). Diabetes stress and health: Is aging a strength or a vulnerability? Journal of Behavioral Medicine43(3), 426–436.
  • Melamed S, Shirom A, Toker S, Shapira I. Burnout and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective study of apparently healthy employed persons. Psychosom Med 68:863-869, 2006.
  • Menninger WC. Psychological factors in etiology of diabetes. J Nerv Ment Dis 81:1-13, 1935.
  • Strandberg, R. B., Graue, M., Wentzel-Larsen, T., Peyrot, M., & Rokne, B. (2014). Relationships of diabetes-specific emotional distress, depression, anxiety, and overall well-being with HbA1c in adult persons with type 1 diabetes. Journal of Psychosomatic Research77(3), 174–179.
  • Wanjiru, J. M. (2018). Understanding the types and causes of diabetes mellitus. International Journal of Biology Research202, 202–207. Retrieved from

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.