How can diabetes affect your mental health?
Having diabetes brings with it a number of extra responsibilities and difficulties. These can include dealing with continuous self-monitoring of blood sugar levels, daily diet planning, making healthy food choices and worries about potential health complications.
‘The physical symptoms of diabetes can also affect your memory and concentration, exacerbating feelings of anxiety,’ explains Dr Oyefeso, Livi Psychologist – ‘and this is why the condition can be both physically and psychologically draining.’
If this is something you can relate to, you may be experiencing diabetes distress.
What is diabetes distress?
Around 1 in 5 people with diabetes struggle with diabetes distress. This condition can occur in Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes and describes the emotional response brought on by the challenges of living with diabetes – usually involving the emotional burden of self-care, the effect it has on your relationships and anxiety around future implications.
‘These feelings are something everyone with diabetes has to deal with but can vary depending on the diagnosis, treatment or changes to the condition as well as stress in other areas of your life,’ says Dr Oyefeso. ‘Being aware of the signs can help you manage these feelings.’
What are the symptoms of diabetes distress?
Some of the most common feelings of those struggling with diabetes include:
- Overwhelmed by living with diabetes
- Anxiety over the success of treatment
- Feeling alone and isolated
- Missing medical appointments
- Not checking blood levels regularly
Is diabetes distress the same as depression?
Diabetes distress is not the same as depression, but many of the symptoms like hopelessness and helplessness can overlap. Depression is an illness that can affect how people feel about all aspects of their life, whereas diabetes distress is an emotional response to living with diabetes.
Diabetes distress is likely to lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration and being overwhelmed. It is still very important to manage any signs of diabetes distress, to help prevent these feelings getting worse or developing into depression.
6 tips for managing diabetes distress
Here are some of Dr Oyefeso’s top tips for looking after your wellbeing with a chronic condition.
- Be aware of your feelings – Everyone can feel stressed at times but having to deal with diabetes can add extra pressure. It’s important to notice if these feelings are starting to affect your life and if you need help coping.
- Set realistic expectations – We can all find it tricky to keep on top of things. If you occasionally forget to check your blood sugar levels, focus on what you can do next time to help you remember.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – It’s important to let your doctor know if you’re struggling with your self-care so you can work together to come up with a new plan that works for you better.
- Tell your family and friends – Talking openly can help offload your stress but also make those around you more aware of what you are going through, and when you might need some help.
- Talk to other people with diabetes – Speaking to others going through the same thing, perhaps in a support group. Strangers can be hugely reassuring. It can also be an opportunity to learn new ways about managing your diabetes.
- Simplify your care plan – To help you feel less overwhelmed, break things down and manage your tasks one at a time. This will help reduce stress and make your days feel more manageable.
When should I see a therapist?
Living with a chronic condition like diabetes can have a big impact on your physical and mental health. You should seek medical help if:
- Your symptoms are affecting your overall quality of life and have lasted for more than 2 weeks
- You don’t feel comfortable talking to family and friends
- You’re feeling depressed or suicidal