How to avoid diabetes burnout
Are you fed up or feeling overwhelmed with everything you need to do to manage your diabetes? Do you feel like it is all too hard, particularly on top of everyday life? Are you frustrated that your efforts to manage your diabetes aren’t producing the results you’d hoped for and just want to give up?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may be experiencing diabetes burnout.
What is diabetes burnout?
Managing diabetes isn’t easy.
Watching what you eat, fitting in regular exercise, monitoring blood glucose levels and taking insulin or medication is like having a second job. But this one is 24/7, has no holidays and is added to everything else you are doing in your life, from paid work or study, to home duties, to spending time with family and friends.
It’s not surprising, then, that some people find this overwhelming and at times feel like it is all too much to manage.
In fact, diabetes-related distress is common, and at its worst, can lead to burnout, where someone feels a sense of helplessness and begins to take less care in managing their diabetes.
Signs of diabetes burnout
The signs of diabetes burnout can vary from one person to the next but might include:
- Feeling overwhelmed, angry or frustrated about having and managing diabetes
- Feeling isolated or lacking support and feeling others don’t understand your diabetes
- Feeling guilty that your diabetes management isn’t better
- Feeling controlled by your diabetes
- Avoiding all or some aspects of your diabetes management
- A lack of motivation to manage your diabetes
While these feelings are common in people living with diabetes, they can also occur in parents of children with diabetes, particularly parents who are required to take on the responsibility of their young child’s diabetes management.
Strategies to prevent and manage diabetes burnout
If you’re struggling with diabetes distress or burnout, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Getting the right help and support is crucial. Following are a few things you can do:
Set realistic expectations.
Managing diabetes is a careful balancing act between food, activity levels, medication or insulin and many other factors that can impact blood glucose levels, some of which we have little control over, such a stress, illness and changes in hormone levels.
In people without diabetes this is a fine-tuned process, with the body constantly monitoring and adjusting the levels of various hormones to keep blood glucose levels in check.
While technology is constantly improving and tools like insulin pumps and continuous or flash glucose monitors can make life a bit easier, keeping blood glucose levels within your target range is still hard work and it’s almost impossible to get it right all the time.
So if you are working hard to manage your diabetes, but blood glucose levels don’t always do what you expect, understand that this is just part of having diabetes. Know that you are doing your best and that sometimes your levels will be out of range for no apparent reason.
Don’t judge by the numbers.
Your blood glucose meter is a tool to help in managing your diabetes, not a judge of your actions. As discussed above, there are times that your levels will be out of range, and that’s okay. Use the feedback to determine what you might do differently next time, but don’t beat yourself up when you see numbers outside of your target range.
Mind your language.
Consider the language you use when talking about your diabetes, whether to others or in your own head. For example, talk about ‘checking’ or ‘monitoring’ your blood glucose levels, not ‘testing’ (which implies you are being judged on the result), and ‘everyday’ and ‘special occasion’ foods rather than ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
In their position statement, A new language for diabetes: improving communications with and about people with diabetes, Diabetes Australia discuss the power of language and how it should be used to engage and support daily self-care and not to de-motivate or induce fear, guilt or distress.
Identify problem areas.
Think about which aspects of your diabetes management are causing you the most difficulties or distress and get some help with tackling these.
For example, if you are doing okay with monitoring and taking your medication but are struggling with your eating, make an appointment to see a dietitian, who can work with you to develop a realistic eating plan to meet your needs and goals.
If exercise is a challenge, perhaps you can enlist the help of a friend or partner to join you for a walk a few mornings per week or accompany you to the gym.
Or, if monitoring your blood glucose levels regularly is difficult, speak to your diabetes educator about what you’re finding difficult and the options that might help to make this easier.
Develop a step-by-step plan.
If diabetes management is feeling overwhelming, forget the all or nothing thinking and start small. Pick a few small actions that feel achievable and develop a plan to add other activities once the first ones become a new habit and you feel ready to tackle the next step.
Your diabetes team can help you to develop a realistic plan to assist you in working towards your goals without becoming overwhelmed.
Get the right support.
While it can feel like it at times, you are not alone. There is help available and it’s important to reach out for support and to ensure you are surrounded by people who are going to help and encourage you with your diabetes management (see building your support team below).
Building your support team
Having the right support is essential in managing diabetes and diabetes-related distress and burnout.
This could include:
- A supportive doctor and diabetes team. It’s important that you don’t feel judged or blamed when you attend your diabetes appointments as this can be a significant contributor to diabetes-related distress and burnout. Find a team of diabetes health professionals who are non-judgemental, who understand that living with diabetes isn’t easy and who are willing to help you in setting realistic targets and a manageable plan to achieve your goals.
- Family and friends. Having the support of those close to you is also important. Whether it’s helping you to prepare healthy meals, joining you for a walk, reminding you to take your meds or just being a good listener, your partner, family and friends can be a great support. However, they may not understand how you are feeling and the type of support you need, so let them know what you find helpful (and what you find unhelpful!).
- Peer support. Speaking with other people who also live with diabetes and can better understand how you are feeling can often be a great help and source of encouragement and support. This could be a local support group or an online community. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Australia also have a peer support program which connects people with type 1 diabetes and parents of children with type 1 with volunteers living with diabetes (or who care for a child with diabetes) who can provide practical help and advice. Visit https://jdrf.org.au/peer-support-program/ for more information.
- A psychologist or counsellor. If you are feeling distressed, depressed or burned out by your diabetes you might also want to speak with your doctor about a referral to a psychologist or counsellor who understands diabetes.
This article was originally published in Diabetic Living Magazine and has been republished with permission.