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The Emotional Side of Diabetes

by Cheryl Barclay, RN, CDE

Cheryl Barclay
Cheryl Barclay, RN, CDE

The diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes is an alert that can help you slow the condition’s progression with adjustments to diet and lifestyle. Making those changes takes time and plenty of support. There is an emotional side to managing diabetes, and a certified diabetes educator (CDE) can help you understand and overcome these challenges.

Many patients are shocked to hear they have diabetes. They may not have the traditional symptoms, or there may not be anyone else in their family who has the condition. Denial is a common reaction, but unfortunately, it delays you in making recommended changes to improve your health. Sitting down with your primary care provider or a CDE to see how your blood sugar levels relate to established guidelines is a good starting point for understanding and accepting your diagnosis.

Fear is another common emotion. Many patients worry that they are going to need insulin, that they will have to give up all of their favorite foods, or that they are guaranteed to suffer severe complications because of their condition. Through diabetes education, you learn that you can still enjoy a little of everything in moderation. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have learned to manage their diabetes and lived for decades without using insulin or developing complications.

Well-meaning friends and family members can frustrate and confuse a new diabetes patient with conflicting advice, misinformation and frightening stories. The most reliable guidelines are tailored directly to you and your unique lifestyle. This can come from your primary care provider, a CDE or any primary sources that these experts recommend.

Managing diabetes requires forming new habits. Just as many people struggle with their first attempts to quit smoking, lose weight or start exercising, it’s important to accept that you may not do it perfectly or completely at first, but you shouldn’t give up! Diabetes educators have helped many people find sure footing on this journey, and they have tips and suggestions to help you overcome challenges, avoid common pitfalls and be successful. A diabetes support group is another resource that can help you adjust to your new condition with advice from experts and opportunities to share experiences with others.

Learning to deal with stress is an important part of managing diabetes. Stress can directly impact blood glucose levels. In addition, when under stress you may be less likely to take good care of yourself. Checking blood glucose levels is an important part of diabetes self care, but it can also become a source of stress when levels aren’t ideal even with your best efforts. The impact can have a cyclical effect as stress builds and then continues to have a negative impact on your numbers. Working with a diabetes educator can help you develop realistic expectations for your blood glucose levels so you can keep this one source of stress in check.

While not everyone who has diabetes suffers from depression, the condition does increase your risks. It’s important to recognize the signs of depression and get help early. Many symptoms of depression, such as lack of appetite, sleep and energy, can interfere with good diabetes management.

Learning to manage your diabetes is an ongoing process, and fortunately, CDEs are prepared to help you master both the physical and emotional challenges you may face. Talk to your primary care provider about a referral today.

Cheryl Barclay is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at the Diabetes & Nutrition Care Center at UPMC Susquehanna. She has been a Type 1 diabetic for 45 years.