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Diabetes and mental health

Prioritizing your mental health is essential to managing your diabetes, as well as your overall wellbeing. Staying on top of your blood sugar, remembering your medications, and the constant decision-making can take a toll on your mental health. While it’s easy to focus on the impact your condition has on your body, it's also important to consider the emotional effect.

Mental health care is an integral part of diabetes management. Common emotions include stress, anger, sadness, and fear. In addition, clinical depression, diabetes distress, and diabetes burnout can develop. Mental health can also impact decisions in diabetes management and quality of life. In addition, how you feel mentally can greatly affect how you feel physically.

Dealing with depression

From the moment you are diagnosed, diabetes can feel overwhelming. Those with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression than those who are not.1

Depression can happen to anyone. If you feel a sadness or mental numbness that just hangs around, you may be suffering from depression. Other symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • No longer enjoying activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much

If you’re suffering from depression, you may lose focus of your diabetes management plan. You might begin skipping medications, or forgetting to test your blood sugar, which could put your health at risk.

Only 25 to 50 percent of people with diabetes actively seek help. Depression can be successfully treated by therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. It’s important to notify your care team if you feel depressed, as they can help you explore treatment options.

Confronting anger

It’s perfectly normal to feel sad or angry. You certainly did not choose to live with this condition. While your feelings are valid, it’s important to deal with them in a healthy or constructive way. Next time you feel overly angry or stressed, try the following:

woman walking her dog on the beach
  • Go for a walk or jog
  • Focus on your breathing
  • Meditate
  • Reach out to a friend or loved one

It can also help to think about why you’re angry. Finding the root of your anger can help you overcome it and successfully focus on managing your condition2.

Stress and anxiety

Everyday stress can seem heightened when you have diabetes. Managing your stress is crucial to protecting your health. Stress hormones can impact your blood sugar, causing it to drop or rise dangerously.

Stress can also turn into anxiety. If you’re in a frequent state of worry or fear, you could be experiencing an anxiety disorder. This is not uncommon—those with diabetes are 20 percent more likely to have anxiety than those without1. Anxiety can also feel very similar to low blood sugar, so be sure to check your levels if you’re feeling especially on edge.

Talk to your care team if you have excessive stress or anxiety. Talk therapy can greatly help, and there may also be medication options. Getting active or doing some relaxation exercises can also have a calming effect. Your body and mind work closely together, so by taking care of your mental health, you can better care for your whole self.

Diabetes distress and burnout

Diabetes distress refers to the concerns and burdens when coping with the daily demands of this chronic condition. Managing diabetes distress is another variable of diabetes management. While diabetes distress can occur at any time, some situations can be especially distressing:

  • Upon diagnosis
  • When you are experiencing a stressful time in life such as job loss, divorce, or the death of a family member
  • When you develop a diabetes complication or another health problem
  • Change in healthcare provider or change in diabetes care routine

During these stressful times, it is especially important to be aware of the risks and seek help. Diabetes distress is not the same as depression, and feelings of frustration and defeat can come and go. Coping strategies include being kind to yourself, taking a break such as relaxing your targets or briefly reducing some of the high-demand tasks such as blood sugar monitoring. First, talk with your healthcare team to determine what small changes could be made safely while offering a temporary reduction to a specific burden. In addition, it is helpful to talk with family, friends, and professional support about how you feel.

Diabetes distress can lead to diabetes burnout, which looks different for everyone. Generally, diabetes burnout can result in stopping taking care of yourself such as skipping insulin doses. Some describe diabetes burnout as hitting a wall or even giving up.

Whatever you are facing, there are resources and specialists available to help develop a plan to help you move through your journey. Many also find value in connecting with other people who can relate, which include in-person support groups or online social media platforms.

1. Diabetes and Mental Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Page. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/mental-health.html. Accessed 1SEP20201
2.Understanding diabetes and mental health. The American Diabetes Association Page. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/mental-health?s_src=AAP181101LXXXXM001CC%E2%80%9D&gclid=CjwKCAjwybyJBhBwEiwAvz4G7189A59OuYIEyC48IpegJ-gcNKbm9T5n3gGfBOi1jupeXoOi_ULzOBoCunsQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds. Accessed 1SEP2021

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1. National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020. Estimates of diabetes and its burden in the United States.
2. Manodpitipong A, Saetung S. et al. Night-shift work is associated with poorer glycaemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. J Sleep Res. 2017 Dec;26(6):764-772. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12554. Epub 2017 May 26. PMID: 28548389.