By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES
Living with diabetes can feel like a 24/7 job with no vacation. And when you add the challenges of diabetes to the normal stresses of life, it can feel downright overwhelming. It is important to find healthy ways to cope so you don’t turn to harmful habits like overeating, drinking alcohol or smoking to feel better, or even worse, just deciding to ignore your diabetes care.
So here are nine suggestions for coping with stress in a healthy way–
Take small steps. Every small step forward is a step in the right direction. You can’t always expect to be perfect or do everything at once. If you’re trying to adjust to a new medication schedule, don’t make that the time you start on a new exercise program. Choose one thing at a time and focus on that until it’s become second-nature.
Set SMART goals. That means setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. You are more likely to achieve a goal that you set for yourself that meets these criteria. For example, “I will exercise more” is vague, but a goal like “I will walk for 10 minutes twice a day for the next week.” is a SMART goal and will be easier to stick with.
Build your healthcare team. In addition to your primary care doctor, seek support through other healthcare professionals such as a diabetes educator, dietitian, pharmacist or a mental health provider (like social worker or psychologist).
Review your treatment plan. Talk with your healthcare provider about feeling overwhelmed and ask if anything about your current plan can be simplified. For example, there might be a combination pill you can take to decrease the number of medicines you have to remember.
Seek ongoing support: It’s helpful to have a network of people and support systems you can turn to in addition to your healthcare team. It can be family, friends or a community of people with diabetes that meets through Facebook or at a local health department.
Recognize signs you may need help. Living with a chronic condition like diabetes may be associated with higher levels of distress or depression. It is important to talk honestly with your healthcare provider about what you’re feeling as there are effective ways to work with these feelings such as counseling or medications. Pay attention to signs that may signal a higher amount of stress than usual such as:
- Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
- Sleeping most of the day
- Not seeing the point of taking care of yourself
Keep up your healthy habits. Staying active, eating well (which means lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and whole, minimally processed foods), staying hydrated (drinking lots of water) and getting enough sleep (aiming for 7-8 hours a night) are all key tools for managing stress.
Think positive: It may sound too simple, but having a positive attitude really helps. Think about and celebrate the successes you’ve had managing diabetes, even small ones. Jot down things you appreciate in a gratitude journal or app. Recalling the good stuff can make it easier to get through the tough times.
Being good to yourself: There are a lot of numbers and targets with diabetes and if you fall short of a goal, try really hard not to beat yourself up. There are no bad numbers or results, just good information. Do the best you can, look at what has worked and what hasn’t… and then move on.
Managing the stress of everyday life and the challenges of diabetes isn’t easy, but developing skills like these can make it more do-able.
If you’d like to try audio meditations, click here.