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Exhaustion and Frustration: An Introduction to Diabetes Burnout

The concept of burnout first gained attention in 1969, when the term burnout related to the work environment. In the early 1980s, research on burnout expanded and it became understood that those with diabetes could also experience burnout. Before conceptualizing diabetes burnout, patients struggling with diabetes self-care were commonly mislabeled as "non-compliant."1

What is diabetes burnout?

Diabetes burnout can be recurrent and occur at any time or stage of diabetes. In addition, burnout has been associated with inadequate diabetes self-care and diabetes complications.1

Researcher and diabetes educator, William H. Polonsky, explained diabetes burnout as feelings of exhaustion and frustration from the daily demands of diabetes self-care. Diabetes burnout is also considered as the inability to achieve targeted glycemic control that may lead to inconsistencies in diabetes self-care.1

What are 3 components of diabetes burnout?

There are 3 components that are considered part of diabetes burnout that include exhaustion, detachment, and loss of control:1

  • Exhaustion: mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.
  • Detachment: lack of motivation for diabetes self-care.
  • Loss of control: a mismatch between a person's diabetes management efforts and their results.

Who is at risk for burnout?

Anyone can experience diabetes burnout, especially with the current stressors of everyday life combined with the stress of managing blood sugar. People who expect perfection in their glycemic control are more prone to burnout and those with additional health complications. Lack of social support can contribute to feelings of burnout.

Why is diabetes burnout concerning?

There are negative effects of experiencing diabetes burnout in the long term. Some of these negative consequences include:1

  • Fluctuating blood glucose
  • Increased risk of hospitalization
  • Increased risk of acute and chronic diabetes complications

How can you reduce or prevent burnout when living with type 2 diabetes?

Although diabetes burnout can be stressful and makes dealing with diabetes more of a challenge, there are many ways to help prevent burnout and stress.

Support from healthcare professionals

Ask your doctor about being screened for diabetes burnout. There are valid and reliable screening tools available. If you feel like your experience with diabetes burnout is getting in the way of your everyday activities, you may find speaking with a mental health professional helpful.

Support from friends and family

Talk with a trusted family member or friend. You may even want to ask them for help with daily self-care tasks to lessen the burden of diabetes self-care and help keep you accountable. You can connect to people who can relate to you by joining a diabetes support group, virtual or in-person.

Goal setting

Give yourself some grace and work to reduce the need for perfection. The expectation of perfection can add unnecessary stress, negatively impacting your blood glucose control and overall health.

Create realistic and achievable goals by enlisting the help of a diabetes educator or another trusted health care professional. Try setting small attainable goals that will help you reach a bigger goal.

Self-care activities

Practice self-care such as going on a walk, practicing yoga, or meditating. Many people benefit from keeping a journal. In your journal, share your frustrations and include everything you are doing for yourself and others (it may be what you need to see/read to pat yourself on the back)!

An important reminder

If you are experiencing diabetes burnout, please remember that burnout does not mean you are "non-compliant" or a "problem patient."

Instead, allow yourself to acknowledge that you are constantly facing a chronic condition that requires much effort; there will be times when managing diabetes feels incredibly challenging and possibly not worth the effort. Please know you are worth every effort and that help and support are available.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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