6 Ways to Stay Motivated & Healthy

Living with diabetes can be like taking a full-time job you never applied for, don't get paid for and don't get any time off from. And, worse yet, you can't quit! Many people with diabetes develop what experts call "diabetes burnout," when patients grow so weary of managing their disease that they begin to ignore it. It's easy to see how it happens.

"A chronic disease like diabetes inflicts a heavy load," says Betul Hatipoglu, M.D., an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic. "One can carry the load only so long before fatigue hits. It can be exhausting to take care of a chronic disease daily, because it doesn't stop."

But tossing your glucose monitor in the trash can be dangerous. Unmanaged diabetes can lead to vision problems, nerve or kidney damage or a heart attack or stroke.

A study published in Diabetes Care found that people who don't follow their self-care routines have a higher risk of premature death. But managing your disease doesn't have to make you miserable. Here's what you can do to stay motivated.

  1. Shake things up. Doing the same routine day after day—whether it's an exercise program, your diet plan or the way you monitor your blood glucose—can become boring and bothersome. So do something different. If you usually walk around the park every day, change your route—or try an exercise you've never done before, like yoga or a Zumba class. Challenge yourself to try one new recipe every week.
  2. Get technical. Download an app to keep you on track. GlucoseBuddy, available for the iPhone, lets you record blood glucose levels, insulin injections, food eaten and exercise completed. Fooducate, available for the iPhone and Android, lets you scan a product's bar code and provides a letter grade based on the nutrition facts and ingredient list.
  3. Prioritize. Lots of people dive into a plan full-out, vowing to eat all the right things, exercise every day and check their blood glucose religiously. But expecting to do everything perfectly all the time isn't always realistic, and making a lot of major lifestyle changes all at once can quickly lead to exhaustion. Instead of piling on all the things you need to do, choose two things that absolutely must get done and focus on those. Check your blood glucose and take your medication daily, for instance. "Maybe something else slides for a bit while you work on the things that are required," says Nora Saul, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., manager of nutritional services at the Joslin Diabetes Center. "Don’t beat yourself up for not doing everything every day. You're doing the best you can at the moment."
  4. Conquer obstacles. Take an honest look at what may be interfering with getting things done. Maybe you've been saving up for a gym membership when you could just lace up a pair of sneakers and go for a walk. If you have no time to cook after work, consider preparing large batches of food on the weekend that you can freeze and reheat during the week, Saul suggests.
  5. Buddy up. Everything is easier with a partner—and it doesn't have to be someone else with diabetes. "An understanding friend, a sibling or a spouse can help you feel less overwhelmed, remind you to take your medications or join you on your daily walk," says William H. Polonsky, Ph.D., president of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego and author of Diabetes Burnout (American Diabetes Association, 1999). If you don't have anyone in mind to pair up with, join a diabetes support group at your local hospital, look for an online chat room or message board or call the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association to see if they know of something in your area.
  6. Think long-term. Instead of focusing on all you have to do right now, look at all the positives that properly managing your disease will bring. "Do your best to remind yourself that the whole point of eating well, exercising, staying on top of your blood sugar and taking your medication is so that you can live a long, healthy life," Dr. Polonsky says. "Good, consistent self-care is what's going to get you there."

Find a Support System

Research shows that people are more likely to succeed in their diabetes management if they enlist support. One study found that people who took part in a diabetes education program had 35 percent fewer heart attacks and a 50 percent lower risk for kidney disease after eight years than people who didn't.

Support groups can also help you to achieve goals, such as better blood sugar control. Ask your doctor for a referral or check with the American Association of Diabetes Educators. If an in-person group isn't right for you, the American Diabetes Association offers a number of online message boards (go to diabetes.org and click on "Online Community").

Is It Burnout or Depression?

People with diabetes are twice as likely as people without it to have depression. Scientists aren't sure whether depression increases the risk of diabetes or vice versa, but the current thinking is that both cases are possible. So how do you know the difference?

"Burnout is when you've lost the oomph to manage your diabetes," Dr. Polonsky says. It happens specifically when people are just worn out from managing the disease.

Depression feels similar, but it's harder to pinpoint a reason. If you're feeling sad, anxious or empty, have trouble sleeping or getting out of bed, have lost interest in things you used to enjoy and have trouble concentrating, you may be suffering from depression.

If these symptoms last for more than a few weeks—or if any of them are getting in the way of being able to function well in your life—talk to your doctor about treatment options.

Adapted from our sister publication Diabetes Focus Summer 2014 & Fall 2014

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 11 Jun 2014

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015