Living with diabetes requires constant attention with no breaks. Trying to understand unpredictable blood sugars while managing appointments and daily life routines can at times feel overwhelming. Having a chronic health condition like diabetes can increase levels of stress and anxiety. However, feeling stuck in these emotions can increase your risk of depression and diabetes distress.
Diabetes distress refers to the negative emotions and burden of self-management related to living with diabetes. According to a study by Chapple, this can be seen in one of four people with type 1 diabetes and one of five people with type 2 diabetes. Because of the prevalence of this feeling, it is vital to understand what exactly it is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
Signs of Diabetes Distress
Everyone has bad days, and everyone feels anxious and angry at times. There is no right or wrong way to process the experience of having diabetes. Diabetes distress, however, is more than just being unmotivated and frustrated. Symptoms of diabetes distress include feeling fear about problems or complications, such as having a severe low or feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of managing diabetes.
When blood sugar objectives aren’t met despite best efforts, you may feel frustrated, disheartened, and perhaps worn out. Crystal – who has type 1 diabetes – says that people with diabetes distress worry about the future to the point that they may neglect their health, causing them to shut down and pull back. Diabetes distress causes the person to feel isolated, alone, and anxious for long periods of time.
What Can I Do to Treat My Diabetes Distress?
Diabetes distress is often described as a widespread yet neglected condition. Like many mental health conditions, people often assume their symptoms are not valid or caused by something else. Nonetheless, diabetes distress is a real and valid condition that needs to be treated. If you think you think you may have diabetes distress, try following these guidelines to improve your situation:
- Discuss your feelings with your doctors or other health care professionals. Talk with your family and friends and accept the support they can provide.
- Talk to other people with diabetes. Consider joining online forums or support groups dedicated to diabetes. These may be a valuable resource for discussing your feelings and knowing that you are not alone. Keep in mind that online groups and forums should not make you feel unsafe or threatened and should be used carefully.
- Be kind to yourself! Having a chronic illness is hard, and you need to give yourself time to unwind, relax, and breathe. Try finding small hobbies you enjoy, TV shows you like to watch, or places you want to go when you need a way to unwind.
How Can Friends and Family Help with Diabetes Distress?
Having a loved one in your life who is dealing with diabetes distress may be difficult to deal with. If you do not have diabetes, you may feel that you cannot help because you cannot directly relate to how they feel. Even if you cannot directly relate to how your loved one is feeling, you can still help:
- Learn the symptoms of diabetes distress and understand the actual cause of the condition. This will help you identify when your loved one is feeling especially low and help you be proactive in your help.
- Reach out to the person. If you have noticed that they have been exhibiting symptoms recently, tell them why it concerns you.
- Normalize feelings and ensure that you make a judgement-free zone. Your loved ones should not feel afraid to express how they are genuinely feeling, and they should not feel embarrassed to come to you. Validate their emotions by listening to the whole story and giving them visual cues that you are listening to them, such as nodding and eye contact.
- Understand limits. When helping someone with diabetes distress, understand their limits of socialization and interaction and respect it.
Being there for a friend or family member with diabetes distress can help their condition and improve their emotional state. It is not like a scraped knee; it will not go away once a Band-Aid is slapped on it. Like many mental health conditions, it requires constant checking in, emotional support, and understanding.
Diabetes distress is indeed a condition that is under-recognized. It stems from stresses caused by diabetes, whether it is the healthcare regimen, losing out on social time due to the situation, or health anxiety and fear of the future. It can cause a range of issues and is very prevalent amongst people with diabetes. Dealing with a chronic illness takes an emotional and physical toll on people, so you indeed are not alone. If you have diabetes distress, talk to your healthcare professional to get treatment options, and, most importantly, be kind to yourself.
CDC Writers. “10 Tips for Coping with Diabetes Distress.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Oct. 2019, www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/diabetes-distress/ten-tips-coping-diabetes-distress.html.
Chapple, Bridget. “What Is Diabetes Distress and Burnout?” Diabetes UK, Diabetes UK, 2018, www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/emotions/diabetes-burnout.
Diabetes Canada Writers. “Distressed by Diabetes.” Diabetes Canada, Diabetes Canada, 2019, www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/stories/distressed-by-diabetes-.
Diabetes Canada Writers. “Using the Diabetes Distress Scale.” Diabetes Canada, Diabetes Canada, Mar. 2015, www.diabetes.ca/DiabetesCanadaWebsite/media/Health-care-providers/2018%20Clinical%20Practice%20Guidelines/using-the-diabetes-distress-scale.pdf?ext=.pdf.
Gahlan, Deepak et al. “Prevalence and determinants of diabetes distress in patients of diabetes mellitus in a tertiary care centre.” Diabetes & metabolic syndrome vol. 12,3 (2018): 333-336. doi:10.1016/j.dsx.2017.12.024
Jaffe, Lisa, et al. “Diabetes Distress: A Common, Under-Treated Emotional State.” EndocrineWeb – For Healthcare Professionals, EndocrineWeb, 27 Sept. 2019, www.endocrineweb.com/professional/diabetes-complications/diabetes-distress-common-under-treated-emotional-reaction.
JDRF Writers. “Dealing with Diabetes Distress.” JDRF – Life With T1 Diabetes, JDRF, 2019, www.jdrf.org/t1d-resources/living-with-t1d/mental-health/dealing-with-distress/.