Diabetes and Mental Health
Diabetes is not for the faint of heart. Whether you’re living with Type 1 diabetes in which the pancreas cannot produce any insulin, or the Type 2 form of the disease in which the body may produce some insulin but cannot process it effectively, every day poses some pretty big challenges.
Unfortunately, many people living with diabetes tend to focus only on the physical aspects of diabetes management. This is somewhat understandable because controlling blood sugar is important to avoid serious diabetes-related health complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and vision problems.
But what about mental health? Being newly diagnosed with diabetes is a life-changing event. Nothing will ever be quite the same, again. Then there’s living with the disease, which can often feel overwhelming with all the daily finger pricks, test strips, glucose meter readings, and insulin injections. Not to mention dietary restrictions and other responsibilities.
Bottom line – diabetes can be difficult and being conscious of your mental state is a big component of staying on top of your diabetes management program.
The “Why Me?” Syndrome?
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), for many newly diagnosed with the disease, diabetes can impact mental health with feelings of shock, which can grow into feelings of anger or guilt, which can sometimes lead to an outright denial of the diagnosis.
While it’s perfectly natural to be upset about getting a diabetes diagnosis. It’s important to not let these feelings get out of control. Not only can this be detrimental to your own mental well-being, but it can also strain the relationships you have with those around you.
According to the ADA, when you begin to sense feelings of anger or frustration coming on, there are some ways to short-circuit it. These include taking a few deep and cleansing breaths, getting a drink of water, shaking your arms loose, or even just stopping what you’re doing and going for a short walk.
Denial is Dangerous
When feelings of shock work their way to denial, serious disruptions can occur with diabetes management. This is because denial can throw you off your doctor-prescribed diabetes management and lifestyle program. What does denial look like? The ADA points out some telltale thoughts those in denial might experience, such as:
“My diabetes isn’t serious.”
“I’ll go to the doctor later.”
“Missing one test won’t hurt.”
“I don’t have time for this.”
“One bite won’t hurt.”
As you can imagine, thoughts like these make it easier for someone to shrug off that blood sugar test or skip a medication dosage or deviate too often from a diabetes-healthy diet.
What can you do to avoid denial? Involve your friends and family in your diabetes management program and ask them to help hold you accountable. Make a realistic plan alongside your diabetes physician, and if you find yourself deviating from it, bring it up at your next visit.
After all, just because diabetes is a self-managed condition, doesn’t mean you need to be all alone in managing it.
Diabetes and Anxiety
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with diabetes are 20% more likely than those without diabetes to have anxiety at some point in their life. This is an important statistic for one primary reason.
Anxiety and stress are known to cause blood sugar to spike or fall unpredictably, which can make controlling it far more difficult. This means, that while coping with stress is part of life for everyone, for those of us living with diabetes it’s even more important because if we don’t do it properly it can negatively impact our ability to effectively manage our diabetes.
Coincidentally, some of the physical signs of anxiety can resemble those of hypoglycemia – sweating, racing heart, headaches, and dizziness. If you experience these symptoms often and aren’t experiencing a drop in blood sugar, it might just be anxiety.
This is probably the most detrimental way diabetes impacts mental health. Anyone living with the disease knows that there are times when you feel discouraged or frustrated. Maybe it’s due to a particularly difficult period of controlling blood sugar despite your best efforts, or maybe you’ve grown tired of having to monitor your diet so closely, or maybe you're preoccupied with the possibility of experiencing a sudden blood sugar dip or spike.
The point is the daily rigors of managing diabetes can build up emotionally, and sometimes they can lead to a situation called Diabetes Distress.
Diabetes Distress occurs when a person essentially throws up their arms and begins to feel that their blood sugar management program is futile. This leads to behaviors that are downright dangerous for someone with diabetes, including skipping doctor’s appointments, missing medication dosages, and binge eating. Some people even stop testing their blood sugar altogether, which can quickly lead to out-of-control diabetes.
Diabetes Distress should be taken very seriously. It happens to upwards of 50% of all people with diabetes at one point or another. The signs can resemble those of depression – apathy, mood swings, too much or too little sleep, erratic behavior, social isolation, and a sense of hopelessness. The difference is unlike depression, which can often be treated with medication, Diabetes Distress is directly related to the challenges of diabetes management, and it cannot be effectively treated with medication.
If you believe you or someone you care about might be experiencing this condition, speak with your doctor right away. Sometimes simple solutions, such as a change in medication or a slight adjustment to your lifestyle program can help. For others, speaking to a therapist or diabetes educator can alleviate those feelings of distress. Many people also find solace in diabetes support groups, where they can engage with others who are facing similar challenges.
Different things work for different people, but ignoring the problem will not make it go away. So please seek help.
Diabetes isn’t just a physical condition. It’s a lifelong disease that requires a daily commitment to blood sugar testing, dietary restrictions, physical activity, proper medication dosages, and so much more. As people living with diabetes, we understand that we don’t have any other option but to try to manage our disease as effectively as possible. This, however, doesn’t negate the fact that, at times, life with diabetes can feel like too much to handle.
It’s important that we not overlook the mental and emotional toll living with diabetes can take, because our health depends on it. If we allow our mental well-being to suffer, chances are it will eventually impact our physical health.
If you think diabetes management is taking a toll on your mental health, see your diabetes physician ASAP. Your care team understands the challenges of living with diabetes, and if they don’t have the answer, they can surely help point you in the right direction.
We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping those with diabetes control blood sugar and avoid diabetes-related complications with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at prices up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.