Living with diabetes is tough: extra daily responsibilities, inconveniences, discomfort, costs, inconsistencies, and never being sure about what the future holds. People with lots of letters after their names have even coined a term for that generally crappy, burned-out feeling we can all experience: Diabetes Distress. Since there is no way to simply “turn off” diabetes, what can be done if you just want to feel better?
Here’s an idea that’s so crazy, it just might work. Try doing something GOOD.
Before you poo-poo it, hear me out. Think about how you felt the last time you did something genuinely good, like giving someone a gift, helping a neighbor, or completing a tough project. I’ll bet you felt genuinely good. It is natural to feel good after doing something that requires effort or sacrifice and produces a nice result. In diabetes-specific terms, there are many things you can do that are genuinely good and will leave you feeling satisfied and refreshed:
Get some physical activity.
A good workout works wonders for one’s mood and outlook. The endorphins produced during exercise help to alleviate discomfort, and there’s a general sense of euphoria that many people experience during and after. Call it a “runner’s high,” a “walker’s high” a “dancer’s high” or even a “gardener’s high” (depending on what you’re growing). This kind of high is genuinely good.
Have a truly healthy meal.
Nothing against treats & sweets, but comfort foods provide very short-term satisfaction. If you want a lasting feeling of satiety, prepare and enjoy a nutritious home-cooked meal. Think to yourself… is this something my mom would make for me? Include lean protein, whole grain and lots of vegetables, along with some fresh, in-season fruit for dessert. You never know… healthy eating could become habit forming. But even if it doesn’t, even one healthy meal can be enough to make you feel good inside.
Take time for yourself.
Mental health is health. And there’s no better way to escape day-to-day distress than with a good distraction. Chat or get together with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Watch a favorite movie. Go out and discover nature. Plan a vacation. Or immerse yourself in a hobby. Mindful activities such as meditation, yoga and Pilates can also soothe the distressed soul (my wife swears by bubble baths). This is not wasted time… it is an investment in your own well-being.
Volunteering is the essence of selflessness, and typically leaves the volunteer with a very positive feeling of self-worth. There are plenty of diabetes organizations that would welcome your volunteerism, but any nonprofit whose mission aligns with your own personal ideals can provide a great opportunity to serve.
Sleep it off.
Quality sleep is an elixir for many of life’s ills. Getting sufficient sleep lets you deal with life’s challenges without becoming overwhelmed. Most adults function best when getting 7-8 hours of sleep, and most young people require 8-9. Uninterrupted sleep is best because it lets you spend more time in the deeper phases of sleep where the brain can purge itself of all the nonsense from the previous day.
Get with the program.
Even if it’s just for one day, follow your diabetes program to a “T”. Take your insulin/medications exactly as recommended. Count your carbs. Check your glucose. Be active and eat right. If doing the right things doesn’t make you feel better intrinsically, having awesome glucose control – even if just for a day – has its share of physical and emotional benefits.
Enjoy a mini-diabetes vacation.
Some things are essential, like taking your insulin and medications. But otherwise, cast your worries aside. It’s not usually a problem to let your glucose levels run higher than usual for a few days. Doing so might help you appreciate the difference a few little decisions and actions make, and how much better you feel when your glucose is in a better range.
Shake it up.
Everyone knows how monotonous it can be to adhere to the usual diabetes routines day-in and day-out. Sometimes, it helps to introduce something completely new and different. If you use a lot of technology, try going “old school” for a change. If you don’t use technology, consider giving it a test run. There’s nothing like a change of pace to shake off the doldrums.
For many people, a little healthy competition can be just what it takes to make diabetes self-care almost fun. Make a friendly wager with a friend over who can achieve the best “time in range” this week. See if you can beat the targets your healthcare team set for you at your last appointment. Or just challenge yourself to work out a certain number of times or not miss a mealtime insulin dose this month.
Talk it out.
Talking (or writing or texting) is a great way to release pent-up distress. Family, friends, or professionals who “get it” when it comes to living with diabetes are probably your best choices, but anybody who is willing to listen can do the job nicely. The goal is not to have them solve your problems, but to hear you and validate your feelings and emotions. If you don’t know anyone who fits the bill, consider attending a local diabetes event in person, or participating in an online forum.
Know when to say when.
Strategies such as those listed above can be helpful to many people. But diabetes distress can be a symptom of a more severe underlying mental health issue. If you find yourself feeling poorly or struggling to function the majority of the time, seek help. Suffering for long periods of time when solutions exist isn’t brave… it’s stubborn and stupid. Talk with your physician or diabetes care & education specialist about a referral to a qualified mental health expert. A list of providers can also be found in a directory created by the American Diabetes Association.
Keep in mind that you’re not alone.
Just about everybody with diabetes experiences stress, anxiety, and burnout at some point in their lives – sometimes multiple times. I’ve been there myself. Antidepressant medication has helped me personally, but I still rely on my workouts and personal “challenges” to continue feeling good and staying on track. It is never too late to start turning things around! Feel free to share what works for you in the comments below.
Gary Scheiner is Owner and Clinical Director of Integrated Diabetes Services, a private practice specializing in all aspects of living successfully with insulin-dependent diabetes. He and his team of clinicians (all of whom live with diabetes personally) provide consultations worldwide for children and adults. For more information or to submit a question or comment, visit www.integrateddiabetes.com, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 877-735-3648 (outside N America, call +1 610-642-6055).