Diabetes management overwhelms me. Is that normal?
Alicia McAuliffe-Fogarty, PhD, CPsychol, responds
Yes. Feeling overwhelmed by diabetes and not wanting to deal with it is very common—so common that it has a name: diabetes distress.
What to Know
Diabetes distress (also known as diabetes-related distress) is a feeling of frustration, worry, anger, and guilt about diabetes. People with it also often feel like there is too much to think about and do every day in order to take care of the condition. Some feel as if they have to think about diabetes all the time. That mental load is the extra burden of having diabetes. Almost 50 percent of people with diabetes will feel distress at some point.
Diabetes distress is different from general stress or depression. Depression is a condition that needs medical attention, which can include medication and counseling. Because depression is common, doctors often screen for it at diabetes care visits, using a few yes or no questions. Screening for distress is less common, but doctors who have many patients with diabetes are usually aware of it.
Like depression, diabetes distress can affect your diabetes self-management, including your A1C (a measure of overall blood glucose for the past two or three months). To be well, it is important to notice your feelings, understand how they affect you, and know the ways you can take care of diabetes.
Find Out More
There will always be ups and downs in managing diabetes, but leaning on your diabetes care team and support network can help. Here are four basic tips for dealing with diabetes distress:
- Give yourself a break. No one manages diabetes perfectly.
- Talk to your diabetes care team about how you feel. Your health care providers can help by teaching you about diabetes, creating a diabetes treatment plan with you to best fit your lifestyle, working with you to set treatment goals, and referring you to a support group or mental health therapist.
- Do one thing at a time and set goals you can reach. Small changes add up to big results. Try setting SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Reward and congratulate yourself when you reach your goals.
- Get support. You don’t have to do this alone. Most people say they manage their diabetes better when they get support.
Know that diabetes-related distress is also common among family members (partners, parents, and siblings) of people with diabetes. Caregivers often don’t know how to help their loved one with diabetes, which may cause them to nag or be overly critical. If one of your caregivers is experiencing diabetes distress, mention it to your diabetes care team and ask for help.
Feeling overwhelmed by diabetes and its management is something many people face at times throughout life. Diabetes distress makes you feel bad—mentally and emotionally—and can affect your physical health. Reaching out to your diabetes care team and your other supporters about how you feel lets them help you get relief.
Alicia McAuliffe-Fogarty, PhD, CPsychol, is a licensed clinical health psychologist specializing in diabetes. She is the former vice president of lifestyle management for the American Diabetes Association and is now vice president of patient-centered research at the T1D Exchange. She has been living a busy, active life with type 1 diabetes for over 30 years.