We’ve all experienced the blues from time to time, but as persons living with diabetes, we know that often times it’s more than simply feeling down. Research confirms that there is a connection between having diabetes and depression. In fact according to multiple studies, individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to also have depression—some studies have the rate even higher than that. We say this not to discourage you but to tell you that you are not alone and that we’re here to help. So what can we do about it?
If you were recently diagnosed with diabetes you’re probably feeling overwhelmed by all of the new information being thrown at you. It’s easy to overlook our mental health when our days are suddenly filled with all of these new demanding activities we didn’t ask for, like blood sugar checks, meal prepping, blousing insulin, and all of the other things we engage in to manage our physical health. Heck, you don’t have to be recently diagnosed to simply feel burnt out from how hard you’re working on managing this disease around the clock with no breaks and no days off. Who wouldn’t be? We get it.
Living with this disease can be stressful, so it’s also extremely important to take care of our mental health and develop a plan for doing so. We know that might sound like one more thing to add to an already too-long to do list, but taking small steps around good mental health will help prevent a future downward spiral. A plan can also help you cope when a bout of depression does happen. Ask your endocrinologist or health care provider about a therapist in the area who is experienced with diabetes so that you can reach out for support when needed. A mental health professional can also offer expertise on whether or not medication is appropriate.
Joining a support group is also another great option, particularly if you are starting to feel isolated and alone with your diagnosis. Or, maybe you’re going through a particularly rough patch of burnout and need to reconnect with people who know what you’re going through. Being in a room full of people who understand what you’re struggling with without any explanation necessary is incredibly powerful. They know what living with diabetes is like and can help alleviate some of this heavy burden that diabetes has placed on you.
If a support group in person seems like too much too soon, there are tons of online communities literally at your fingertips—like this one—who are there to listen and offer their insight, experience, advice, and a much-needed laugh about how crazy this disease can be. Remember, many emotions accompany living with diabetes and that’s OK. Fear, resentment, sadness, confusion, guilt, shame—the list goes on and on and they are all normal. We each experience them in our own ways. But, no one should have to live with those negative emotions day in and day out. If you are starting to feel sadder than usual, experience a loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy, notice you want to isolate yourself at home rather than being out with loved ones, or are feeling hopeless, get help right away.
Here are some other things you can do that we promise you’ll actually want to do because of how much better you’ll feel. Engage in some self-care activities that make you feel recharged and restored instead of rundown and depleted. Go for a walk outside, spend twenty minutes doing a relaxing hobby that you love, listen to music, try taking deep breaths or meditating for ten minutes, stretch or do yoga, journal your thoughts and feelings, or spend some time laughing with friends and family. Try to be mindful of doing all of those healthy habits for ourselves that we know we should do but don’t always make time for, especially when depression hits. For instance, getting a good night’s sleep is so important because it helps regulate serotonin levels which regulates your mood. Also try not to skip your workouts, which we know can be really hard to keep doing when you’re feeling depressed. During physical activity the body releases endorphins, also known as the “feel good” chemicals, which will help ease some of the sadness and other symptoms you might be feeling. Drink water throughout the day and try to eat healthy, whole foods even though those high-carb and high-fat “comfort” foods seem like appealing choices. We know this is so much easier said than done, but more often than not these foods end up making us feel even worse and just aren’t worth it.
Lastly, how you talk to yourself matters. Recognize that managing diabetes adds a whole new dimension to your life that you didn’t ask for and be kind to yourself for how hard you work at it. Forgive yourself when things don’t work out, whether it’s your blood sugar number or incorrectly blousing for a meal, or whatever it is that diabetes has thrown your way. Diabetes is unpredictable and it is no reflection on you as a person. You’re doing your best, and that’s always good enough. Tell yourself that as often as you need to hear it. It’s also OK to ask a family member or friend to help you with management if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It can be hard to ask for help, but our loved ones are usually looking for ways to support us and make this disease easier on us. You don’t have to do everything all by yourself. It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out to others and let them know you need help. It’s a sign of strength and moving forward in a positive way.
Every single person living with diabetes should feel empowered to believe “I can do this,” and live in a positive, happy, and joyful place. We know this process is difficult, and we have to take the bad with the good, but every day we can be willing to move closer to taking back control of our diabetes and live the lives we want and deserve.
By: Lauren Szalkiewicz and LaurieAnn Scher, MS, RD, CDE