Healthy Coping

Diabetes Distress: Dealing With The Weight of Diabetes

Living with diabetes can be likened to mastering the art of juggling four balls. You’re handed this skill and told that you’ll need to juggle daily for the rest of your life. However, there’s a twist – the conditions for successful juggling are unpredictable, and you’re unsure when and how they might change. The stakes are high; if you stop juggling, your health suffers, and those who care about you express their concerns and encourage you to resume.

For those who are managing diabetes, this analogy hits home all too well. You’ve been entrusted with a lifelong commitment that requires daily attention, affecting aspects of your life that were challenging even before the diagnosis. In addition to these daily routines, you’re often expected to gauge your success based on numbers and attend frequent healthcare appointments that assess your ability to manage this complex task. Notably, your family and friends are aware of your condition, and this adds a layer of self-imposed judgment on top of external pressures.

It’s important to acknowledge that the unpredictability of blood sugar levels, daily schedules, and life, in general, can make managing diabetes a daunting task. The emotional highs and lows add to the daily burden, raising questions about how diabetes distress impacts both you and the disease.

When our actions yield unpredictable outcomes, it’s natural to experience distress. In the context of diabetes, this is known as “diabetes distress.” Symptoms include tension, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and experiencing “burnout.” This burnout can sometimes lead to neglecting crucial aspects of diabetes management. You might think, “I’ll skip checking my blood sugar today,” or “I’ll skip that medication since it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.” Regrettably, this neglect can result in unmanaged diabetes, leading to a high A1C, feeling unwell, and potentially developing complications.

So, what can you do if you suspect you’re experiencing diabetes distress? Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Seek Guidance: Talk to your diabetes care and education specialist. They can ask you relevant questions and provide valuable insights.
  2. Assessment: Undergo a simple test, like a diabetes distress questionnaire, to pinpoint which areas of diabetes are most distressing for you.
  3. Develop a Plan: Based on your results, work with your healthcare team to create a plan that addresses your specific concerns and needs.

It’s crucial to remember that diabetes doesn’t disappear, so how can you ease your distress? Consider these strategies:

  • Connect with Others: Talk to someone who understands the emotional challenges of living with diabetes. Whether it’s a support group, your healthcare specialist, a family member, or a mental health professional, sharing your experiences can ease the burden.
  • Address Judgments: If you feel judged by others, express your concerns and find ways to ask for their support rather than their judgment.
  • Seek Support: Your healthcare team and family members may not always know how to help, but they want to support you. Communicate your needs and the type of support that would be most helpful.
  • Take Breaks: If the daily tasks and feelings of failure become overwhelming, allow yourself a reasonable break from the routine. Plan it intentionally to recharge.
  • Embrace Imperfection: Understand that nobody manages diabetes perfectly all the time. Achieving optimal numbers is a challenging goal. It’s okay to take a step back from time to time.
  • Set Boundaries: If you feel overwhelmed by others monitoring your behavior, don’t hesitate to ask them to respect your boundaries.

Living with diabetes is undeniably challenging. During times of burnout, you may resist additional responsibility, but it’s precisely when you need to seek help and allow others to support you in a way that works best for you. Remember, you’re not alone on this journey, and with the right support and strategies, you can manage diabetes effectively while maintaining your emotional well-being.


Type 2 diabetes affects millions of individuals and their families, workplaces, and the U.S. health care system.


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