Reacting to your diagnosis

Learning that you have a chronic illness like diabetes can be emotionally challenging. In fact, after you’ve been diagnosed, you may find yourself dealing with powerful feelings that surface, including anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. Once you’ve gotten past these initial feelings, the daily challenges posed by living with diabetes may increase your risk for emotional problems like depression, anxiety, and stress.

Studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes are approximately 25% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and 50% more likely to experience anxiety symptoms than their non-diabetic counterparts.3,4 Increased levels of stress have also been shown to significantly influence metabolism and have been linked to increased blood sugar levels.5 If you are experiencing the symptoms of depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor. There are many effective treatment options available for both of these conditions and getting successful treatment for a psychiatric condition will also enable you to better control your blood glucose and your health, in general.

Learn more about psychiatric complications associated with diabetes.

No two people will react the same to the diagnosis of diabetes, but there are some common feelings that you may experience after you’ve learned that you have diabetes. These include shock, denial, confusion, anxiety, anger, and relief. There is wisdom in allowing yourself to feel these emotions. They are a natural response to disappointing news. Keep in mind that you have resources that you can use to help you cope with these feelings. You can ask your doctor for a referral to speak with a counselor (typically a social worker or psychologist) who is experienced in helping people with the emotional difficulties associated with a chronic illness like diabetes.

Shock. Shock is a typical first reaction to a diagnosis of a chronic illness like diabetes. Allow yourself to acknowledge your shock. Talk with your friends and family about what you’re experiencing. Friends and family members can be an incredibly powerful source of support. Once you’ve given yourself space to get over your initial shock, learn all you can about living a healthy and full life with diabetes.

Confusion.When you learn that you have diabetes, you may be confused and look for some explanation. You may ask: “Why me? I eat pretty well and I’ve always been active.” We all want to know the reason when we develop a health problem. It’s important not to blame yourself. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes develop in people who are genetically susceptible to the diseases. This susceptibility is beyond your control. What is within your control is to make lifestyle changes that will protect your future health.

Denial. You may go through a period where you avoid feeling and thinking about your diagnosis and what it may mean to your life. Allow yourself space for a healthy amount of denial (it’s a natural reaction), but try not to get stuck denying that you have diabetes. This is particularly important with diabetes, because uncontrolled high blood glucose that persists can lead to serious health complications.

Anger. Anger is a pretty normal way of reacting to something that threatens to change your life. Once you’ve gotten over your initial anger, the challenge will be to find a way of turning your anger into the positive energy you will need to stick to your treatment plan, control your high blood glucose, and live a full and healthy life.

Anxiety. You may experience anxiety about what diabetes will mean for your future. Your challenge will be to take each day as it comes. This is the opportunity of living with a chronic disease like diabetes: it challenges you learn to live in and embrace the present.

Relief. Once the air has cleared and you learn the facts about living with diabetes, you will experience relief. You’ll recognize that it is within your power to follow a treatment plan that will allow you to live a full and healthy life.

Consider a diabetes support group

When it comes to coping with the emotional and practical challenges posed by diabetes, there is wisdom in the old adage “there’s strength in numbers.” When you join a diabetes support group (whether it’s an online forum or a group that meets regularly in your local area), you tap into the experience, knowledge, and connections of many people who are struggling with difficulties similar to your own. A support group can be particularly useful as a place to talk about the emotional challenges and the stress associated with living with diabetes.

A support group may be led by an experienced health professional, such as a social worker, psychologist, or diabetes educator, or it may be member-led (such groups are sometimes called peer or self-help groups). Even if you see yourself as an independent, rugged individual, there are a number of practical benefits that you can get from being a member of a support group. Your fellow support group members may have the latest info on treatments and other developments in diabetes research and you can get a lot of useful information by comparing notes with other diabetes patients.

Take advantage of Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES)!

Medicare and by most private health insurance plans will cover DSMES services if you have type 2 diabetes. These service cover diabetes education and support provided by a American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE)-certified diabetes educator. A diabetes educator is a healthcare professional who specializes in helping people with and at risk for diabetes and related complications to make behavioral changes designed to help them better manage their condition and lead a healthier life. DSMES services focus on seven important self-care behaviors that are keys to living a healthy life with type 2 diabetes:

  • Healthy eating
  • Being active
  • Monitoring blood glucose
  • Taking medication
  • Problem solving
  • Healthy coping
  • Reducing risks for health complications

Ask your doctor, PA, or NP to refer you to a local DSMES provider. If your provider is not familiar with DSMES services or the referral process, you can direct them to the AADE website or download and print DSMES information and a referral form and give it to your provider yourself.

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: May 2014.
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