Diabetes can be a demanding and overwhelming disease. For many people—even those who are determined to take good care of themselves and maintain near normal glucose levels—it can sometimes become just too much, causing what William Polonsky, Ph.D., founder and director of the Diabetes Behavioral Institute in San Diego, CA calls "diabetes burnout." And for many others—particularly those with diabetes-related health complications or poor glucose control—depression is often a parallel health threat.

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Signs of Diabetes Burnout

The Institute says that the most common signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling confused, discouraged or frustrated by your diabetes
  • Getting tired with the daily effort and vigilance that diabetes requires
  • Feeling unmotivated to manage your diabetes
  • Feeling angry, depressed or guilty about your diabetes
  • Having disagreements with loved ones over your diabetes management
  • Feeling frightened or helpless about long-term complications

If two or more of these statements describe you, the Institute says, "chances are you are struggling with your diabetes management, and have poor blood sugar control (for example, an A1C greater than 8.0 percent, problems with hypoglycemia, or very erratic blood sugars)."

Signs of Depression

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes should be alert to the possibility that they are clinically depressed. The signs to look for include:

  • Loss of pleasure
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Early to rise
  • Change in appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of energy
  • Suicidal thoughts

What Can You Do to Reduce Symptoms of Depression?

The first and most important step is to talk to your doctor and or a trained mental health professional. Depression is a disease that can and should be treated promptly with a combination of medicine and therapy. And both diabetes burnout and depression can lead to poor glucose control, overeating, heightened risk of developing diabetic complications and then of course more feelings of depression or frustration—so taking steps to ease your frustration and negative emotions is of vital importance.

The American Association of Diabetes Educators stresses the importance of building a support team to help you with your diabetes management. Facing the challenges alone is not necessary and counterproductive.

  1. Talk to your doctor or the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association about joining local support groups and about finding a diabetes educator to work with.
  2. Talk to your friends and colleagues abut the challenges of diabetes. Ask those closest to you for their support and understanding. But make them understand that they should not become what Polonsky calls "the diabetes police." If they hound you or criticize you , instead of offering constructive ideas or unconditional support, you may only become less willing to "get involved" with your self-care.
  3. Take advantage of the tools available to make management easier: Use a food diary and a medicine tracker online or on your smart phone. Use day by day pill boxes to track medications. Buy a pedometer to keep track of your daily steps—you'll soon want to make sure you hit the 10,000 a day that is recommended. Buy a portion control plate that will help you manage your diet more easily. Ask others in the support group you've joined (See number 1!) for their self-management tricks.
  4. Start a new, enjoyable activity that brings pleasure and reward to your life: It can be anything from starting a hobby (make that patchwork quilt you always wanted to) to gardening or taking a job mentoring a local schoolchild. When you raise your spirits you may well lower your glucose!

Originally published in our sister publication Diabetes Focus, Spring 2010

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 17 May 2010

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015