Diabetes Feelings: You can be sure you have them, it's what you do with them that counts

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Recognizing and dealing with the emotions caused by diabetes and the ways those emotions affect self-care are vital to success living with diabetes.

Diabetes Feelings: You can be sure you have them, it's what you do with them that counts

The model for dealing with human illness is still largely mechanical, even auto-mechanical. Look under the hood. Find the problem. Fix it.

For all that the emotional component of illness is acknowledged, its effects on the sick body is, if not neglected, typically postponed. In the case of diabetes, carbos count more than feelings. First things first.

But increasingly, it’s seen that it’s slightly less simple than recognizing that type-2 diabetes is a bummer, a hassle. Stress about the condition, which is near universal among people with the illness, can actually raise blood sugar levels as surely as errant blood-sugar levels can affect, mostly negatively, emotions.

What do we know?

A study by Diabetes UK, recently published by the BBC, reported that 60% of the 8,500 people studied said that having diabetes made them feel “down.” Among workers with diabetes, 7% had not informed their employers of their diabetes, and 16% reported feeling discriminated against at work because of their diabetes.

In a nation that sees 700 new diabetes diagnoses per day, Chris Askew, executive director of Diabetes UK comments, “Effective diabetes care requires that a person's emotional needs are taken into account alongside their physical care needs. We want to see a system where specialist support - from people who understand diabetes - is made available to those who need it.”

Emotion or emotions?

In “Dealing with Emotions: How Diabetes Can Affect Your Mood,” the Diabetes Council identifies a range of emotions diabetes, including and perhaps particularly, can trigger. It makes suggestions about how to deal with each.

  • The grief of diagnosis. The article notes that this initial reaction, akin to the loss of a loved one, is common among people newly diagnosed. A specific personal loss if often that of a (real or newly “remembered”) formerly “carefree life.” While it doesn’t make this point specifically, it clearly implies that recognition of this “grief” is important in coming to terms with, as with the following emotions.
  • Stress. Since this is the major emotion reported in all the studies, we’ll give you the Diabetes Council’s paragraph complete (emphases ours):


Stress is one of the most common emotions associated with having type 2 diabetes. Just the constant daily regimen of testing, ensuring you’re taking your medications and monitoring your food intake, may seem like a full time job in itself. Add to this routine, a career, a family, and other typical life activities, and stress is almost inevitable. The problem with stress, in addition to the emotional weight it places on you, is that it can also affect your blood sugar levels as well. Stress is known to cause a rise and also a fluctuation in blood sugar levels which can make it more difficult to stay within your target range.

  • Fatigue. So-called “feelings” of fatigue, which don’t feel like “illusions” to the people having them, include not just physical but mental fatigue. Both are attributable to blood sugar levels outside your norm.
  • Anger. Anger, whether or not directly associated with having diabetes, can cause upticks in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood-sugar levels.
  • Diabetes burnout. Thare is also a more smoldering form of anger that results from “diabetes burnout.” To the extent that being diagnosed with diabetes can be like the stress and exhaustion of having a newborn, “burnout” can result from the fact that “diabetes does not grown up.”
  • Denial. While denial is often considered a secondary emotion, in the sense that it constitutes a refusal to acknowledge, or feel, a primary one, it’s more dangerous for diabetics. Denying having the condition, which is far more common and reflected in the number of undiagnosed cases thought to be “out there,” and which can be life-threatening.

The council makes a list of the conditions that can follow from negative emotions caused by or associate with diabetes, partial list of which includes:

  • Sleep irregularities or disorders
  • Difficulty concentration
  • Low libido, reflected in reduced interest in sex and other activities that previously brought pleasure
  • Sudden weight gains or losses; overeating
  • Withdrawal, depression, thoughts of suicide

What can a person with diabetes do about/with the associated emotions?

Not surprisingly, coming out of denial—about the condition or the emotions it triggers--is critical. And coming out of denial entails your personal recognition that you need help followed by a willingness to seek and accept it.Interestingly, the outward manifestations of being out of denial are often practical.

Scheduling self-checks—of anything from blood-sugar levels to current emotions—and then following the schedule until it becomes second nature or habit, removes some of the stress about “what to do.” This includes setting reminders about times to take medications.

Keeping in close touch with medical practitioners and therapists to make sure that symptoms such as fatigue are not due to other conditions that need addressing. This includes making appropriate adjustments to your diet as indicated by physical exams or lab results.

Learning stress-reducing practices of activities and making them routine is the most effective way of managing stress and keeping it down. These can include meditation and yoga, physical exercise, and scheduled group activities that take your mind off yourself and your condition—which is hard to do alone. British studies indicate that mindfulness exercises are particularly helpful in dealing with the emotional aspects of having diabetes.









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