When you find out you have diabetes, you may focus on treating the body. That makes sense, since it’s the most pressing need. But the news also can trigger intense feelings.
If you’ve had diabetes for a while, you know that’s just the start of an emotional journey. People with diabetes are more likely to have mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Tending to your emotional well-being will help you take better care of your physical needs, too.
Dealing With the News
Learning that you have diabetes may leave you upset, confused, or sad. These feelings are understandable. Think of anger as a source of energy. Choose to use it to do something positive for your health, such as exercise. The key is to notice when you’re angry, and then decide what you will do with those feelings.
But do you still feel like "this can't be happening to me"? Or that there's been a mistake, or you want to wait for more test results?
That’s denial. Many people react that way when something overwhelming happens.
Start to make the adjustment as best you can, and with help from your doctor and support from family and friends. You'll begin to get used to keeping up with your blood sugar tests, medications, doctor appointments, diet, and exercise.
Typically, these feelings ease up with time. But sometimes, they linger too long and you get stuck in a cycle of emotions that makes it harder to manage the condition. To work through this early storm, you can:
Learn as much as possible. Information is power. Understanding your condition and how to manage it will let you see solutions where you first saw concern or confusion. Ask questions about anything that you don’t understand. See if there are diabetes education classes nearby.
Over time, you will get more familiar with what it means to live with diabetes. It helps to write down a plan for your day. Include when to take your medications, times to test your blood sugar level, your workout for the day, and some healthy eating ideas. You can share this plan with your doctor to see if there’s anything you should change.
Make a plan. Set goals for things like healthy eating, exercise, and learning. A good plan puts you back in control. Break the work into smaller pieces to make it less overwhelming.
Write about it. A journal can help organize your thoughts and recognize emotional triggers. For example, you might realize you’re upset over how diabetes changes your social life. Or that telling people about your diabetes makes you sad. Seeing these patterns may help you figure out how to deal with them.
Reach out. Having a serious condition can make you feel cut off from the world. Seek out family, friends, or a support group, and talk to them honestly about your feelings.
Talk to a therapist. A good therapist gives you an outlet for your emotions. You can also learn new skills for handling the challenges of diabetes.
Emotions Over the Long Haul
Anxiety. Fear and worry are part of being human. But if they’re so constant they affect your work, relationships, and daily life, they’re a more serious concern. You may have an anxiety problem if you have symptoms like these for at least 2 weeks:
- Constant worry
- Feeling nervous or antsy
- Hard time relaxing
- Heartbeat that’s faster than normal
- Muscle tension
- Tightness in your chest
- Upset stomach
You may mistake the fast heartbeats, sweating, and trembling that come with anxiety for low blood sugar. You can test your glucose level to be sure.
Depression. You may feel blue about having diabetes or about the lifestyle changes you’ll need to make.
Everyone gets sad now and then, but depression is much more than feeling blue. It saps your energy and makes you feel hopeless. Take note if you:
- Can’t find enjoyment in things you usually like
- Gain or lose weight because of changes in eating habits
- Feel anxious or antsy
- Feel sad or empty most of the time
- Feel guilty and like a burden to others
- Have hard time focusing
- Have trouble falling or staying asleep, or you sleep during the day
- Lack energy and feel sluggish
- Think about suicide -- you want to die or you think of ways to hurt yourself
If you have at least three of these symptoms -- or you’ve been feeling down and have had one or more of the symptoms for more than 2 weeks -- you may be depressed. Let your doctor know if those feelings get overwhelming or if they don’t lift when you do things you enjoy, spend time with people you love, and take good care of yourself. They can recommend a support group, counseling, or other treatment to help you feel like yourself again.
Diabetes distress. The constant work of managing diabetes can pile on top of life’s other responsibilities. Sometimes, you may feel like you need a vacation from it. Recently, doctors have given this burden a name: diabetes distress.
It’s more than just worry. It’s the toll diabetes has on your mental health: a mix of anxiety, frustration, depression, stress, and more. Everyone with diabetes runs into it. But if it’s constant and you feel like you’re getting burned out, it’s a problem.
Tips to Improve Your Emotional Health
If sadness slips into depression or stress into anxiety, you should get help. Talk to your doctor or therapist about how you’re feeling. You may need help managing your emotions. But you can take some practical steps to improve your well-being.
Be good to yourself. It’s easy to think you don’t do enough or to feel worn down from everything. To balance that, you might:
- Exercise often. It lowers depression, anxiety, and stress. Yoga, the gym, or a simple walk in nature can all help.
- Get enough sleep. Everything’s harder when you’re tired. Create a nightly routine and get to bed at a good time.
- Nix the blame game. No one’s perfect. If you mess up, go easy on yourself.
- Reward yourself. Find healthy ways to treat yourself so it doesn’t feel like work all the time. Reward yourself when you meet goals.
Check your plan. Make sure your plan works for you and not the other way around:
- Adjust your goals. If you keep missing your goals, maybe you set the bar too high. Dial it back and find easy wins to build on.
- Go small. Big, sweeping changes might feel good to make, but they’re hard to pull off. Go for small changes instead and build good habits.
Stay connected. Negative emotions get more intense when you feel alone. Try to:
- Consider family therapy. Diabetes can be hard on the whole family. In therapy, you learn to work together to manage your condition. You can also sort through your emotions and learn how to express them.
- Find a support group. Check in online or in person with others who have diabetes to share stories and get tips.
- Stay in touch, and stay open. See family and friends regularly and often. Talk to them frankly about your feelings and experience, and offer them ways to help.
Try mindfulness. Mindfulness and relaxation can help, too. You can:
- Let it be. When you fight your feelings, you only feed the beast. Remember that your moods will pass.
- Learn relaxation techniques. From deep breathing to meditation, try new ways to keep calm.
- Practice gratitude. It may sound corny to some, but it works. Think about what you’re thankful for, and your mood can shift.