Leaving the doctor’s office with a life-changing diagnosis in hand demands strength in great supply. Many newly diagnosed diabetics experience a complex emotional journey as they let go of the life they knew and navigate new territory, not knowing what their future will hold.
Since a diabetes diagnosis requires making concessions about the life you used to live, this sparks a grieving process of sorts. Give yourself or your diabetic loved one compassion while adapting to the news.
Developing healthy coping strategies, building self-sufficiency, and surrounding oneself with positive support systems can help reduce diabetes distress and encourage the successful management of diabetes.
Diabetes distress encompasses the emotional toll associated with diabetes and its management over time. Daily finger pricks, monitoring blood sugar, and taking insulin are just the practical stressors involved in diabetes management. Perhaps the saddest part of diabetes distress is avoiding travel or favorite activities for fear of having a diabetic attack.
While these are all understandable stressors, having greater diabetes distress increases risk of poor disease management, reduced quality of life, and diabetes-related complications.
Perception is reality
The extent to which we perceive that disease management must interfere with our daily activities bears weight on how successful we’ll be. Higher diabetes distress, a higher perceived severity of disease, and lower sense of self-efficacy are all associated with poorer glycemic control.
By contrast, the psychological well-being traits of optimism and positivity are associated with better medical outcomes, including glucose control and lower mortality rates.
When a child or teen is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the entire family can experience shock, distress, and sometimes anger. If your loved one has been diagnosed, the key is shifting into a supportive and health-promoting role once you’ve navigated these complex emotions.
For those with diabetes, having supportive family and friends is associated with significantly better diabetes-related attitudes, self-care, and glycemic control. Goals and interventions implemented as a couple or family are helpful for maintaining healthy behaviors.
The delicate nuance to honor is supporting your loved one by encouraging healthy behaviors—without using fear, shame, and guilt as motivators. Work together to set attainable goals according to their timeline, to promote a greater sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy.
Acceptance-based mindfulness therapy for those newly diagnosed with diabetes is helpful for shifting out of an avoidant coping style. Among adult type 1 diabetics, acceptance-based therapy is shown to improve emotional flexibility, reduce diabetes distress, reduce symptoms of disordered eating, and improve diabetes self-management.
Children and teens also benefit from mindfulness-based approaches. Teens with type 1 diabetes and disordered eating who participated in an eight-week self-compassion program reported a reduced sense of loneliness, enhanced mindfulness, and improved disease-related coping resources.
Diabetes education rooted in acceptance and mindfulness may reduce diabetes distress and blood sugar levels, promote self-care, improve quality of life, and encourage a sense of empowerment in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Written by Cassie Irwin, ND