by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE
Living with a chronic condition like diabetes is a balancing act. There are many things that need to be juggled—remembering to take medications, working to keep blood sugar numbers in target and thinking about what to eat. In addition, it can be a challenge to manage our own thoughts, fears and worries and to keep from feeling overwhelmed. We may also have to manage well-meaning family and friends, some who are offering unwanted (and unhelpful) advice and others who just aren’t there for us.
It may sometimes feel like just a few steps in the wrong direction could throw everything off and send us down a rocky path. Feeling worried or concerned about any one of these issues can lead to feelings of distress which can ultimately impact our overall health and diabetes care journey.
Each of these different challenges which are common along one’s journey with diabetes can contribute to something called “diabetes distress.” Diabetes distress is a term that describes feeling frustrated, defeated or overwhelmed by diabetes. These feelings can come and go (and it doesn’t mean that you have these feelings about other parts of your life), but diabetes distress can turn into depression and worsening blood sugar numbers if you have these feelings for a while and they aren’t going away.
So what can we do to keep the right perspective on diabetes – not too much focus, and not too little? How do we keep the little worries from becoming big ones and how do we surround ourselves with the kinds of positive thoughts, supportive family and friends, and a healthcare team that can help make the journey with diabetes as smooth as possible? Here are a few tips to help you navigate:
Everyone’s journey is different. Many know several people with diabetes in your family or in your community. Just because you have the same type of diabetes or take the same medicine doesn’t mean that you’ll have similar experiences. Don’t compare yourself to others when it comes to what you “should” or “should not” do. Follow the recommendations from your doctor or healthcare provider – and if it is not working for you, let them know.
A trusted relationship with your provider is key. If you don’t feel like your doctor listens to you, takes your concerns seriously, gives you clear directions or is as informed about things as you’d like – that can contribute to feelings of diabetes distress. If you feel you’ve communicated clearly about what you want and need, and you don’t feel it’s a good partnership – it may be time to look for a new medical care provider. Your health may improve because of it.
Talk with others. Don’t hold it in. Well-meaning loved ones (friends or family members) can unintentionally contribute to our feelings of worry and distress. They may act too often like the diabetes police – telling you what to do or not do. You may feel they don’t fully appreciate how hard living with diabetes is or you may not receive the kind of emotional support you feel you need. In an open and honest way, let others know how you feel and what you need.
Adjust to a new “normal”. Recognize what is okay – and what is not. It takes time to adjust to living with a chronic condition. There is a normal progression in moving from diagnosis to denial to acceptance. In some cases, people struggle to move out of the denial phase and just ignore diabetes. For others, it may feel like diabetes is all they think about after being diagnosed. You may feel angry, scared or that you are often failing with your diabetes routine. You may lack the confidence that you can do what needs to be done to manage it. You may feel overwhelmed by the demands of diabetes, yet at the same time not feel motivated to do what you know you should do. You may be afraid of ending up with serious long-term complications no matter what you do. Know that all of these are normal feelings from time to time. However, if they last more than a few days or weeks… or if you feel they are becoming more than just a “minor” problem, they need attention. Any of these worries can be a sign of diabetes distress.
Seek help early. Diabetes distress is common. It can last a short period of time or it can become quite debilitating and lead to depression. Talk about your worries with your doctor or healthcare provider. You might find that a few sessions with a mental health provider (or a therapist like a social worker or psychologist) is just what you need.
Use peer support communities to share challenges and successes.The advantage of social media is that it brings together people who share things in common. Many online communities provide much-needed support to help their members navigate through the new territory and the rocky roads. If you’d like to join a great community of people with type 2 on Facebook, we’d suggest this one.
Be aware of how you’re feeling and communicate what’s happening. Ask yourself these questions. Share your thoughts with your loved ones, your medical team or a peer support community if you have one:
- What about diabetes is troubling or challenging to you?
- How do you handle it when your fears or worries seem to get the best of you?
- What do you do when you feel you are out of balance or when diabetes seems to be getting the best of you?
- What are the pain points for you – and what would happen if these were lessened?
- Where are you on your diabetes journey? Do you feel stuck?
If you’d like to join a diabetes support group to learn and share with others, join here.