When you have diabetes, there’s a lot you have to manage. You’re monitoring your blood glucose, taking your medication and seeing your doctor. You’re paying attention to what and when you eat and trying to fit exercise into your schedule. You might be worried about your long-term health and uncertain about your future.
You may also constantly think about numbers. “An average person can look at a plate of food and think it looks delicious. If you have diabetes, you’re looking at it and calculating all these numbers. It can be fatiguing and be a mental load,” said Jordan Wagner, a diabetes educator with Banner Health who has type 1 diabetes. “I’ve certainly had times when I’ve been tired and felt like I don’t want to do it anymore.”
Sometimes, it can all feel overwhelming. And it can impact your emotional health. To cope, start by remembering that you are not alone. Millions of people around the world live with diabetes and there are many resources available to support you.
By understanding how diabetes can impact your emotional health, you can take steps to feel better.
The emotions you might feel with diabetes
It’s normal to feel a range of emotions when you have a chronic (long-lasting) condition like diabetes. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.
- You might feel afraid of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and long-term complications, such as heart disease, stroke and blindness.
- You may be frustrated with the amount of effort you have to spend controlling your blood sugar or by the limitations diabetes puts on your diet and lifestyle.
- You may feel isolated, lonely or stressed because of the way diabetes affects your work, relationships, social activities and leisure time.
- You may have self-esteem issues that stem from having a chronic condition that can be hard to control.
- You might feel guilty if it’s hard for you to manage your blood sugar levels.
- You may worry about the way diabetes will affect your romantic relationships or your ability to have children.
You might also be experiencing many emotions at the same time. Diabetes distress is a condition that can include anxiety, depression, frustration and anger. You can develop diabetes distress from the daily demands of managing diabetes, a fear of complications and uncertainty about the future.
You could also develop burnout (emotional and physical exhaustion) that can happen after you’ve been trying to manage diabetes for a long time. Burnout can make you feel hopeless, helpless and resentful.
Body image issues and diabetes
If you have diabetes, you may have a negative body image because of changes in your body, weight or skin. “Body image is a big issue with diabetes,” Wagner said. People with type 1 diabetes are often very underweight when they are diagnosed. That’s because their bodies can’t burn carbohydrates for fuel, so they burn fat.
And using insulin can make it easier to gain weight, especially for people with type 2 diabetes. “Losing weight can be more challenging for those with type 2 diabetes,” Wagner said.
Using an insulin pump can also impact your body image. “I’ve been using an insulin pump for ten years. If you look at my abdomen, you can see scar tissue,” said Wagner. “Sometimes you look in the mirror and think, ‘Wow, I’m kind of beat up from all this.’” This might even prevent some people from using an insulin pump, which could help them manage their diabetes better.
And some people don’t want to use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which could help them better control their blood sugar. That’s because they don’t want other people to see it and know they have diabetes.
Diabetes and mental health issues
Diabetes is linked with mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression. “In general, living with a chronic illness is linked with depression and anxiety,” Wagner said.
- Up to 30% of people with diabetes experience depression at some point in their lives. In fact, people with diabetes are more likely to develop depression than people without the condition.
- People with diabetes are twice as likely to experience anxiety as people without diabetes. Anxiety could stem from concerns about blood sugar control, complications or the impact of diabetes.
- People with diabetes are more likely to experience stress than people without diabetes. That may be because the demands of managing diabetes can be overwhelming.
Keep in mind, though, that the link between diabetes and mental health conditions is complex. And other factors, such as genetics, lifestyle and social support, may play a role in developing both diabetes and mental health conditions.
What you can do to cope with the impact of diabetes
All of these possible emotional and mental health issues may have you feeling overwhelmed. But making time for things that give you joy can make a big difference.
“I find that I get weighed down by my diabetes when I’m not doing things that give me enjoyment. I know I need to do things that lift my mood. That could be getting outside walking or exercising or taking my boys to the park,” Wagner said.
“Find things you really love and make them a priority in your life. Even if it’s only 10 minutes here and there, try to set aside a little bit of time for something that you enjoy,” he added.
Boosting your mood can also help you manage your diabetes better. “When you’re in a happy or content state, it’s easier to control your diabetes. When there’s less stress and lower stress hormones, your body is more receptive to insulin and the medications you’re taking,” Wagner said.
Here are some other steps you can take to make it easier to deal with the emotional effects of diabetes:
- Regularly monitor your blood sugar levels: Monitoring your blood sugar isn’t just important for your physical health. Identifying issues early can keep them from causing more stress or anxiety.
- Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling and let them know how they can support you.
- Choose a balanced diet and exercise regularly: Eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise are important for both your physical and emotional health.
- Take breaks when you need them: Putting your diabetes management tasks to the side for a while can help you recharge.
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation or spending time with loved ones.
- Talk to a health care provider or diabetes educator about your struggles: They understand what you’re going through and can offer support and resources.
- If you are dealing with stress, anxiety or depression, talk to a health care provider: There are many effective treatments for these conditions. “If you’re feeling down or having worrisome thoughts about yourself for more than two weeks, you should consider finding someone to talk to,” said Wagner. “You shouldn’t feel like diabetes is ruining your life.”
Joining a support group may help
Support groups and online communities give you a safe space to connect with others who understand what you are going through. You can share your story and listen to the stories of others, learn from them, offer support and build relationships.
Connecting with others who have diabetes may help reduce stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem, increase your knowledge, provide support and improve your quality of life.
“Community is really important. If you have a bad day, you can talk about it and someone will say, ‘I know what you’re going through. Here are some things that helped me get out of that situation,’” Wagner said.
To find a support group, you can:
- Ask your doctor or other health care providers for recommendations.
- Search for support groups in your area online or through a local diabetes association.
- Join an online community for people with diabetes. There are forums, chat rooms and social media groups to consider.
“When you have diabetes, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone struggling with these mental health challenges. But the reality is, a lot of people have ups and downs. Just be mindful of when you’re in one of the down times and steps you can take to feel better,” Wagner said.
The bottom line
Dealing with diabetes can lead to emotional issues and mental health challenges. People with diabetes may feel isolated, frustrated or afraid. They may have body image issues. And they could develop depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to recognize you aren’t alone if you are struggling. Making time for self-care and connecting with others can help. If you find that it’s hard to manage the emotional impact of diabetes on your own, reach out to your doctor or a provider at Banner Health.