Overcoming the Emotions Diabetes Can Bring

Diabetes can bring unexpected feelings. Here are the best ways to cope.

Rita Ross
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Fear. Frustration. Anger. Guilt. Dealing with diabetes can bring up unexpected emotions. But it’s normal to feel any of them at times. “People sometimes berate themselves for having diabetes, like it’s their fault,” says Roufia Payman, director of outpatient nutritional services at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, NY. She is also a wellness coach who often works with patients with diabetes. “And the blood sugar swings of diabetes can themselves affect emotions.”

“Have compassion for yourself!” says Payman. And then, try the strategies some of Payman’s patients use to dial down those pangs of “diabetes distress.”

  1. Feeling: denial
    “Diabetes runs in my family, and I was overweight when I was diagnosed with type 2 in 1998,” says Harold Rugar Jr., 57. “At first I told myself diabetes wasn’t going to do anything to me.”

    Unfortunately, diabetes-related symptoms soon put Harold’s vision in jeopardy. “A doctor told me I would likely be blind in two years if I didn’t take immediate steps,” he remembers. “I decided to do whatever I needed to do.”

    Fix: making a U-turn

    He worked closely with his doctor, stopped shunning diabetes medication, had laser eye treatment, and consulted with a diabetes counselor about exercise and nutrition. The good news: “The doctors said I did a 180-degree turnaround, including my eyes,” Harold says. “I’m now committed to keeping a tight rein on diabetes.”

  2.  Feeling: frustration
    “After I found out I had type 2 diabetes, I took medication and lost 62 pounds,” says 63-year-old retired teacher Saranne Ratner. But eventually, she hit a plateau. “I needed a shove; I wanted advice from an expert.”

    Fix: A date with a dietitian

    It’s smart to check in with experts, like a nutritionist, to fine-tune your management program and help you learn to read nutrition labels.

  3. Feeling: overwhelmed
    “I was working full-time and going to grad school, so I was eating on the run and not exercising,” says 32-year-old Ali, who has type 1. “I never liked the idea of support groups. But I’d been slipping in my self-care. A friend reminded me that it’s my life, and I need to make choices. That hit home for me. I want to have a baby, and know I need to keep my diabetes under control for that to happen.”

    Fix: rallying your kind of support

    “Now my husband comes with me to appointments, and we’re improving our eating habits—he’s even lost 60 pounds. I exercise five times a week, and the doctor said that pregnancy now appears to be a safe option for me!” Adds Payman: “Getting support is essential, but if traditional groups aren’t your cup of tea, choose the type that works for you.”
April 2013