Can Diabetes Lead to Aggressive Behavior?
Diabetes can impact the way a person feels, behaves, and reacts to other people and situations that are part of everyday life. Unfortunately, in some extreme cases, this can include bouts of aggression and what is commonly referred to as “diabetic rage”.
Diabetes and Feeling Angry
First and foremost, let’s make one thing clear. Most people living with diabetes do so without any extreme changes in behavior. However, the simple fact remains that a diabetes diagnosis brings with it a whole new level of responsibility, as well as a big bunch of additional stress factors that people who aren’t living with the disease will never quite comprehend. Living with diabetes can be very frustrating and emotionally exhausting at times. How a person handles this added pressure can be the difference between succumbing to it and overcoming it. In this post, we’ll examine the relationship between diabetes and feelings of aggression, including what causes them and what you can do to avoid spiraling into that unfortunate place.
The Two Main Causes of Aggressive Behavior
There are two primary paths that can lead someone with diabetes to experience feelings of anger and aggression. The first is a reaction to the rigors of living with diabetes. The second, and certainly the most avoidable, is out-of-control blood sugar levels. In other words, one is psychological, and the other is physiological.
Diabetic Aggression - Psychological
We already hinted at this earlier in the post. While living with diabetes is certainly easier now than it has ever been thanks to testing and treatment breakthroughs like glucose meters and test strips, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), injection pens and insulin pumps, the disease is still no walk in the park. Those with diabetes face a barrage daily treatment and lifestyle demands that exist on top of the tried-and-true life responsibilities we all manage each day.
For some people, the perpetual demands of living with diabetes can become overwhelming. They can lead to feelings of defeat and frustration, which can bring on bouts of diabetes-related depression. But frustration can also lead to feelings of resentment and anger, which can lead to aggressive behavior. In most instances, these “anger” outbursts never extend beyond verbal episodes and temper tantrums. However, in extreme cases, diabetes-related anger can turn physical if not properly addressed.
The bottom line is this - the psychological toll of living with diabetes is not going to go away as long as you have the disease. So, if you or someone you know is experiencing aggressive behavior due to the pressures of living with diabetes, it is important to seek help. Ask your diabetes physician for guidance; get involved in one of the many online support groups out there; or get some professional help from a diabetes counselor. You can find experts in your area using the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Mental Health Provider Directory.
Diabetic Aggression - Physiological
The added pressures of living with diabetes aren’t the only possible causes of diabetes-related anger. Many times, there’s a familiar culprit to blame - mismanaged blood sugar.
That’s right, as with most diabetes-related complications, a lot of times it all comes down to how well a person is able to control blood glucose levels. If you’re someone living with diabetes, you already know the importance of adhering to your doctor recommended blood sugar testing and treatment program. Especially, if that includes insulin injections or other diabetes medications.
What you might not know is that blood glucose plays a major role in brain functioning, including things like self-control and how the body handles “fight or flight” situations.
When blood sugar levels exceed 140mg/dL, known as hyperglycemia, or when they drop below 70 mg/dL, known as hypoglycemia, brain function becomes compromised. Even worse, when blood sugar levels are in a state of frequent fluctuation between highs and lows, as can happen when diabetes isn’t properly managed, it exacerbates the situation.
One of the possible outcomes is aggressive behavior. Quite simply, when blood sugar levels are out of control, a person’s emotions can very easily follow the same path. Mood swings can come on rapidly and without any apparent rhyme or reason. While they aren’t always angry in nature (depression and anxiety are other emotional reactions tied to improper blood glucose control), feelings of aggression and even rage can be the direct result of poorly managed blood sugar. The outburst is emotional. The root cause of it, however, is entirely biological.
Signs Of Diabetes-Related Aggression
Feeling a little ticked off now and then is par for the course when living with diabetes. However, when any of the following behavioral changes start to present themselves, it’s more than likely a sign that things are accelerating in unhealthy ways.
– Verbal threats
– Belittling language
– Intimidating language
– Yelling outbursts
– Acting paranoid/delusional
– Temper tantrums
There’s no question things are out of hand once anger turns to physical aggression, which can come in the form of:
– Breaking/destroying property
How To Handle Diabetes-Related Aggression
Every person and situation are different. It also depends on the root causes of the aggressive behavior - is it psychological or physiological? However, here are some things to consider that might help mitigate current episodes and prevent future ones.
Test your blood sugar
There’s a good chance diabetes-related aggression is related to poorly controlled blood sugar. So, test it and track it! If you’re experiencing highs, lows or both, getting your blood sugar back under control will likely quell those aggressive and angry feelings.
Talk to your doctor
Your doctor is there to help you build a successful testing and treatment plan. If you’re experiencing aggressive feelings, talk to your physician. Perhaps a medication or lifestyle adjustment is necessary to help keep your blood sugar under better control?
Are you exercising?
We all know that physical activity aids in blood sugar management and controlling weight. It also happens to be a great way to get some of those frustrations out, clear the head, and calm the mind. Whether it’s running, walking, yoga, or your favorite sport, physical exercise can do wonders for your mental health.
Join a diabetes support group
There are a lot of them to choose from online or ask your doctor to recommend a group in your area. Either way, talking things out with people who are dealing with many of the same challenges you are can be a big help.
Practices like deep breathing, meditation, Thai Chi, and yoga can all help calm the mind and relax the body. If none of these interests you, however, simple pleasures like listening or playing music, drawing, or even playing video games can be great outlets, too.
Talk to a professional therapist
Sometimes it helps to talk to a trained therapist, especially one who is experienced in the struggles of living with diabetes. Your diabetes physician can surely recommend someone. Or, once again, you can check out the ADA’s Mental Health Provider Directory to find a licensed professional in your area.
Having diabetes does not, in itself, lead to aggressive behavior. However, if you’re having a difficult time managing your disease and keeping blood sugar in the target range, it can lead to physiological complications that can cause feelings of anger and aggression. For some people, the rigors of daily diabetes management alone are enough to cause feelings of anger and resentment. In either case, sometimes these feelings boil over into improper behavior. The good news is that there are solutions to the problem and the best way to start formulating yours is by speaking openly and honestly with your diabetes physician.
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