Living with diabetes can be a daily grind. You're constantly monitoring your diet, exercise and blood sugar readings. But hang in there. Diabetes doesn’t have to feel like it rules your life. We have 13 expert tips to help you fight burnout. Plus, how much do you know about diabetes? Take our quiz to find out…
Ready to toss your syringe, insulin and diet foods into the nearest trash can?
Chances are, you have “diabetes burnout.”
San Diego psychologist Susan Guzman, Ph.D., calls it the “I Quit Attitude.”
“Diabetes is like the full-time job you didn’t want and can’t quit,” says Guzman, director of Clinical Services at the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego. “It’s a lot of work. And the best payoff is that nothing bad happens. That’s not terribly rewarding.”
Still, it’s important not to give into feelings of futility. Stopping self-care – testing your blood sugar, exercising or taking medications – can bring on dangerous complications, such as eye, nerve, kidney and heart problems.
Women diabetics may be especially prone to burnout. As the family caregiver, “they have a harder time prioritizing their own needs,” Guzman explains.
With diabetes, it’s important to put yourself first. Use these expert tips to keep burnout at bay:
1. Do a depression check.
Make sure your mood isn’t masking clinical depression.
“People with chronic health conditions face a higher risk for chronic depression,” says diabetes educator Pamela C. Butler, M.S., C.D.E., manager of Touro Diabetes Center in New Orleans.
In a 2009 English study of 4,300 Vietnam veterans, type 2 diabetics were almost four times more likely to suffer from depression than men who didn’t have the disorder.
If you’re experiencing depression symptoms – sadness, insomnia, changes in appetite, loss of interest in your usual activities – for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor.
2. Give in to frustration.
Taking medications, exercising, watching your weight and eating well goes with the diabetes territory.
So it’s perfectly natural to have a self-pity party once in a while.
“Stew for a few minutes,” with a spouse, close friend or diabetes educator, advises Butler.Then vent, to “release all that pent-up emotion.”
3. Get perspective.
When blood sugar numbers fluctuate or you’ve gained weight, it’s easy to get discouraged and think you’ve blown it for good, says Guzman.
“People tend to notice what they’re doing wrong or the changes they still need to make,” she says.
Let go of what’s wrong and focus on what has gone right. Not sure how? Keep reading.
4. Celebrate your “wins.”
Write down 10 things you’re doing right every day. This will keep you going on difficult days. It’ll also boost your spirits.
“It’s important to notice all the little wins,” Guzman says. That includes remembering to check your blood sugar or snacking on celery with peanut butter, not chips.
5. Cut calories, not pleasure.
Eat one serving, not two.
“The biggest error is taking in too many calories, period,” says Laurence Kennedy, M.D., chairman of Endocrinology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
One serving of rice means half a cup; a serving of fish three ounces, about the size of a woman’s palm.
And eat more whole-grain rice, pasta and bread, and lean proteins like fish and chicken.
Everyone – with diabetes or not – should eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and skip the high-fat fast foods and sweets, Kennedy says.
6. Pick two priorities a day.
When you’re especially stressed, pick one or two self-care goals – like taking your insulin and exercising – and skip the rest for a couple of days, says Butler.
“Go easy on yourself,” she advises. “You’re doing the best you can.”
7. Take a diabetes vacation.
Every diabetic needs a break from managing the disease.
“A diabetes vacation gives people a safe way to cheat,” Guzman says.
So go ahead and take one, as long as you get your doctor’s OK.
That doesn’t mean going off your meds, Guzman warns. A successful break involves four steps: Planning, limiting its length, keeping it safe and making it restorative.
You might, for example, reward yourself with a hot fudge sundae after a successful week of self-care – only after you calculate how much insulin you’ll need beforehand, how many carbs to eat that day and how long a walk to take afterward.
Then enjoy every spoonful.
8. Consult a diabetes educator.
“Seeking help if you’re stuck is a sign of strength,” Guzman says. But only about half of people with diabetes see a diabetes specialist, adds Butler.
If you’re struggling with blood sugar readings, depression or losing weight, ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist in those areas.
Diabetes education can be very motivating, says Kennedy. “It helps diabetics understand what is at stake” – such as heart health, eyesight, kidney function – “and why we want them to take care of themselves.”
Find a diabetes educator or diabetes support group through your doctor, local hospital or the American Diabetes Association.
9. Find a diabetes buddy.
Diabetics often feel like they’re working hard with little result. That’s where a champion can help.
“You need someone to tell you that you’re doing a good job, especially when all you hear is that you should be doing better,” Guzman says.
“It’s particularly important to hear that from someone else with diabetes, who knows what you’re going through,” she adds.
One place to find support: www.diabetessister.org, which offers forums, blogs, and online programs for women with diabetes.
10. Involve your ”inner circle.”
Include family and friends in managing your diabetes. They may ease your own stress.
Butler suggests this exercise: Ask them to check their own blood sugar and, based on the number, make a decision about food and insulin they’d need.
Even though they’ll probably have normal blood sugar levels, the exercise may help them begin to understand, respect and admire the complexities of managing the disorder daily.
Also, suggest how they can help, and not “put up roadblocks to your care,” Butler says.
For example, ask your family not to buy junk food. Or get your husband to watch the kids while you exercise.
Your healthy habits may actually improve their health, says Kennedy.
A diabetic diet would be “good for your family members, who may also be at risk for diabetes,” he says. “Try to enlist them in that.”
11. Shed Olympic exercise pressure.
Exercise is a non-negotiable part of your treatment; it’s the key to controlling blood sugar and weight.
“But that doesn’t mean you need to train for the Olympics,” Kennedy says. “We’re talking about just getting out and walking.”
On burnout days, 10 minutes will chase away the blues, says Butler. The ideal? Working up to 30-60 minutes a day.
12. Mix up workouts.
Boredom is the enemy of exercise, so try a new activity.
“Start dancing, go to the park, and exercise with other people,” Butler says. “Make it less of a chore, so that you’ll want to do it.”
Also, line up events that jazz you, says Butler.
“Have things you want to do, not just things you should do,” she says.
13. Attack barriers.
Do you know why you’re not taking care of yourself? Write down your insurmountable hurdles, and ideas for overcoming them.
For example, if getting to a gym each day is too hard, consider buying a home treadmill. (Scan classified ads, Craig’s List or EBay for good used ones.)
If losing weight seems futile, keep a diary of everything you eat for two weeks, Kennedy suggests.
“Many patients come back and say, “I had no idea how much I was actually eating,’” he says. “That motivates them to cut back a bit.”