Overcoming Diabetes-Driven Distress

Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE

Have you, or somebody you know, been diagnosed with diabetes? It is common to experience feelings of anxiety, anger, guilt, or depression when told by your healthcare provider that you have a chronic illness. It is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed at the many lifestyle changes required to manage your diabetes.

Do any of these scenarios describe you? You cry at the mere mention of the word “diabetes.” You “hate” your diabetes! You think to yourself, “Why me? This is so unfair!” You feel helpless and alone. And you might think that you will never be able to manage your diabetes.

If the depression you feel is related to living with the emotional burden of diabetes self-management and blood glucose control, this is known as “diabetes distress.” There are four main areas of distress:

  • Emotional burden – feelings of shock, denial and sadness; feelings of anger, frustration and guilt; feelings of failure; worry about possible long-term complications.
  • Physician-related distress – not feeling confident in the healthcare provider’s competence about diabetes; having adifficult relationship with healthcare providers.
  • Regimen-related distress – difficulty following a healthy diet regimen; difficulty following a healthy physical activity regimen; difficulty following a medication regimen; difficulty monitoring blood glucose.
  • Interpersonal distress – conflict with family and friends due to diabetes issues; feeling alone and emotionally unsupported by family and friends.

Here’s the good news: You can be successful at managing your diabetes by changing the way you think and making some changes in your everyday activities. Negative thinking frequently hinders people from being able to cope with their diabetes. Can your diabetes ever go away? No, but you can learn how to accept it and cope with it. You can be empowered to manage your diabetes!

Change Your Attitude

People with diabetes who experience significant diabetes distress may be less likely to practice good self-care behaviors, which could then negatively impact their A1C. When using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) strategies to reduce diabetes distress, the goal is to challenge the irrational, unreasonable thoughts you have and change them to more rational and reasonable thoughts. In order for you to accept your diabetes, you must change your negative attitude.

As you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel. Here’s an example of depression and irrational thinking: “I need to keep my blood glucose perfect.” Change that unreasonable belief to this reasonable thought: “I will do the best that I can to keep my blood glucose within my target range and feel good about successful management.”

Along with improved thoughts and actions, the benefit of utilizing CBT strategies is that you can feel empowered, instead of overwhelmed, to take control of your diabetes and not let diabetes take control of you.

Choose to Have a Positive Attitude

Focus your attention on what is within your control. Take “baby steps” to make changes. You can eat healthier low-carbohydrate food choices and use portion control. You can participate in physical activities to help lower blood glucose. (Speak to your health care provider about adjusting medication and food before exercise.). You can lose weight. Take medications as directed. Most of all, you can choose to have a positive attitude. When you are stressed, it makes blood glucose harder to control. There’s a saying: “You cannot live a positive life with a negative mind.” It’s also been said: “A bad attitude is like a flat tire - you don’t get anywhere until you change it.” With a positive attitude toward diabetes, you can overcome diabetes distress and feel at peace with your diagnosis.