Diabetes and Mindfulness

It’s time to face the facts people, living with diabetes can be VERY overwhelming and that’s nothing new to all of you out there living day in and day out with type 1 and type 2. Right? RIGHT!

So, with that being said, it’s pretty common to experience difficult emotions and when you have those difficult emotions, (i.e. feeling as though you want to give up, throw something against the wall, cry like a baby, or just yell at whoever happens to be around because you are so darn frustrated), it’s normal to spend a lot of time and energy TRYING to make yourself FEEL better.

Can you guess what the most common strategy people use to try and make themselves feel better? AVOID! AVOID! AVOID! Are you one of those people? Do you watch hours of mindless TV? Let’s remember though, that there is certainly an appropriate time and place for marathon Netflix watching, but back to the subject at hand, if you find yourself sleeping excessively, or exercising like a maniac, binge eating or drinking chances are you are probably playing the “avoidance game,” and no one wins at that game. Maybe you don’t manage your blood sugar levels because doing so brings up feelings and emotions you just don’t want to have to deal with and that’s completely understandable and really common.

So how well do these avoidance strategies actually work? Well, let us tell you that watching Netflix all weekend and eating three bags of Doritos Jacked 3D Bacon Cheddar Ranch isn’t going to make you feel amazing in the long-run. Chances are you probably aren’t doing things that are important to you, like spending time with your family and friends and managing your diabetes.

Dr. Mark Heyman, Psychologist, PhD, CDE and a type 1 suggests that you should not avoid your uncomfortable diabetes related emotions, but instead to simply observe them. By doing this it may actually help you focus less on your negative feelings and have more freedom in your life. Some of you may be calling BS right about now but stick with TCOYD and Dr. Heyman for a second.

Dr. Heyman is talking about something called mindfulness and unless you’ve been living under a shroud of Netflix shows for the last five years, you’ve probably heard this term before.

Mindfulness means paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to what are you are experiencing.

In other words, observing the thoughts, emotions and physical feelings you are having right now, without avoiding or judging them. The goal of mindfulness is not to make you feel a certain way (e.g., relaxed or happy), but to give yourself the space to just notice your present experience.

To really understand mindfulness, you need to experience it, and practice it regularly. We encourage you to do a short (about 5 minutes) mindfulness exercise (courtesy of UCLA’sMindfulness Awareness Research Center) to help you get a better idea about what we mean. Click here to get started.

Learning how to be mindful can take some practice, and it can be especially difficult to pay attention to experiences in the present moment when you are busy doing everything necessary to manage your diabetes, not to mention your every growing to-do list, your kids, your spouse. It’s even more challenging to pay attention to the present moment without judgement – and who hasn’t beaten themselves up over a high or low blood sugar? Even though it may not be easy, mindfulness can be something you can try to help you manage difficult diabetes-related emotions.

Let’s take a minute and think about what you may get out of being more mindful with diabetes. First, you may learn something new about yourself. You may see that even though it is not always easy, you can handle having uncomfortable thoughts emotions around your diabetes. You may even find that experiencing these thoughts and emotions are not as bad as you thought it might be. It also may be easier to do the things that are important to you but you have been avoiding. While these feelings may still be uncomfortable, you may find that mindfulness makes it harder for them to control your behavior. Mindfulness can allow you to choose your behavior, rather than letting your emotions choose it for you.

Dr. Heyman suggests some great methods that you can use in order to start being more mindful with your diabetes, take a look!

Mindful eating

As you eat, notice any thoughts you have about your food. Are you looking forward to eating it? Are you feeling guilty about eating it? Are you worried about what the food will do to your blood sugar? Take some time and notice the different sensations you experience as you eat. How does the food feel on your lips, your tongue, as you swallow? What does your food taste like? What is the temperature? The texture? How spicy is it? Just notice, without judgment, what you experience as you eat your meal. Try eating one meal mindfully and see what you notice and learn.

Mindful glucose monitoring

Before you check your blood sugar, notice your thoughts. Do you think your blood sugar is high, low or in range? How does this make you feel? Content? Discouraged? Notice what it feels like to prick your finger. Notice the all steps involved in putting the drop of blood on the strip. When you see the result, notice your response. Are you surprised? Proud? Frustrated? Once you have the result, just take a minute and observe what you just experienced – not from a place of judgment, but from one of curiosity.

Finally, try not to get discouraged (and if you do get discouraged, notice that feeling without judging it!) and remember that being mindful takes practice. As you practice mindfulness, keep in mind that the goal isn’t to make your thoughts and feelings go away, but to notice them. Whatever you experience, mindfulness gives you the space to observe your thoughts and emotions while not letting them control you. Being mindful can help you make decisions based on what’s important to you, rather than as reactions to your thoughts and feelings.

Jon Kabat-Zinn sums up mindfulness nicely when he says ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.’


Content provided by:

Dr. Mark Heyman, Psychologist, PhD, CDE

Dr. Heyman is affiliated with the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health in Solana Beach, CA. He has lived with type 1 diabetes for over 15 years.

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    I am registered for the TCOYD conference on March 28, 2020 in Michigan. I heard it was postponed due to the Coronavirus. Is this true? When is it rescheduled for? It’s a long drive for me and would be extremely upset if it had been canceled. I have received no notification.

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      Hi Barbara, Yes, the Novi conference has been rescheduled for October 3rd. If you aren’t able to make the new date, please email info@tcoyd.org and we can issue you a full refund.

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