How to Manage Diabetes Burnout
Last updated: October 2023
In my head, the same image played repeatedly: I’m stuck on a merry-go-round, endlessly going around and around. But instead of reaching for the brass ring, I check my glucose meter.
Start the day, check my glucose. Measure out the insulin and take a shot. Eat a meal. Check my glucose levels. Go for a walk. Check my glucose levels. Feel a little dizzy or tired. Check my glucose levels. Get ready for sleep. Check my glucose levels.
Check. Again and again and again. The meter will show a number regardless of what I do or don’t do. Looking ahead, what did I see? More of the same. For how long? Forever.
Facing burnout with type 2 diabetes
Then came that truly dangerous thought: "Why bother?"
Why is this a dangerous thought? Because it’s destructive. It undermines my daily self-care. It shatters my healthful routines. It’s evidence that what I’m going through is more than just a couple of bad days. It points to frustration, distress, or possibly worse, burnout caused by diabetes.
We all experience frustration. We all can be discouraged. Even without diabetes in the mix. But when those feelings overwhelm us and get in the way of our self-care, it's the start of something more serious: a complication called diabetes burnout.
What does diabetes burnout look like?
At its worst, when a person living with diabetes experiences burnout they stop taking care of themselves and their diabetes.
It can start with something seemingly small, like skipping a few glucose checks. But then it can go on to skipping lab tests or doctor appointments. As care routines fall apart, feelings of despair and hopelessness take over. Energy and motivation drain away.
In the short term, diabetes burnout can lead to emotional distress and high blood glucose levels. In the long run, if left unaddressed, diabetes burnout can contribute to the physical complications that come with poorly managed diabetes.
Tips for managing diabetes burnout
We all have days where we feel discouraged or aren’t exactly motivated to do all the things that diabetes demands. But when those feelings persist (for weeks, months, or even longer), it can point to a serious condition that requires attention.
When it’s hard to just get through the day making an appointment with your doctor can be beyond reach. An easier place to start can be with online resources.
Take an online assessment survey
The Diabetes Distress Assessment Survey is a formal assessment developed by mental health professionals who specialize in diabetes care. It asks you to respond to 17 distressing situations with how much of a problem you felt that the situation was for you over the past month.
The results are strictly confidential and are not shared with anyone else or stored. In the results, you will see a score for the level of distress you indicated overall and for four key sources of distress.
The four key sources are:
- Emotional burden
- Regimen distress
- Interpersonal distress
- Physician distress
Knowing which area(s) are causing the most distress is a helpful pointer to what needs changing.
Reach out to your diabetes peers
There’s nothing like a little been-there-done-that feedback when feeling distressed or unsure. Reaching out to others who know what life with diabetes is like can provide encouragement, suggestions, and confirm that you’re not alone.
There are several ways you can make contact. Reach out to friends and family. Join a diabetes support group in your community. But when your energy levels are depleted, logging on to an online diabetes community like Type2Diabetes.com is still in reach.
Treat yourself with compassion
Diabetes distress and burnout are probably more common than you realize. Half of adults with diabetes report feeling significantly distressed within any 12-month period.1 Managing diabetes day-after-day for a lifetime can wear you down. This is not a personal failing. There is no place for blame or shame when experiencing diabetes burnout.
Be honest with yourself
Something isn’t working. That can only be fixed if your face up to what’s causing you distress. We can’t always choose how we feel. Denying feeling anxious, exhausted, or angry won’t make those feelings go away.
Change something, even if it’s something small
Changing things up is one way to dislodge yourself from feeling stuck. One step can lead to another and another. The result is to move away from what no longer works and toward getting your self-care back on track.
Reach out for support
Managing diabetes really can’t be done all by yourself. Whether you reach out to diabetes peers, family, friends, or a medical professional it almost doesn’t matter. Ask for help. Ask even if you’re not exactly sure what kind of help you want or need. In the beginning, it’s mostly about moving forward—even if it's just a little bit.
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