Self-Care Isn't Easy for People with Diabetes: Two Simple Strategies
Last updated: June 2023
Many of the individuals I work with struggle with self-care. Usually, this is individuals who are caregivers to other people, whether children, parents, a spouse, or as a professional (i.e. nurses, childcare workers). And, yes, these roles of caregiver are most often seen among women, where I really see the struggle with self-care.
With such a common issue, it's no wonder that I often see this show up in people with diabetes. And you better believe it takes a toll on diabetes management.
Why is self-care important for diabetes?
Diabetes management requires time, attention, and resources devoted specifically to the practice of self-management. And, for those in caregiver roles and who struggle with self-care, we often feel guilty for taking that time and energy required for not just diabetes management, but self-care in general.
In her book, “Fierce Self-Compassion: How women can harness kindness to speak up, claim their power, and thrive,” Kristen Neff, describes research that shows how caregivers often tend to neglect their own physical health. In one shocking study looking at caregivers, “who’d recently been admitted to the hospital for a coronary event such as a heart attack...were more likely to experience continued cardiac symptoms...because they weren’t engaging in enough self-care”.1
“We may literally be breaking our hearts by ignoring our own needs.”1
Let’s take a moment to dispel a few common misconceptions surrounding self-care:
- Self-care is not selfish.
- It is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
- Taking time and energy to tend to your own needs is not a sacrifice in place of aiming to meet the needs of others. Rather, it is done in addition to and in order to care for others.
- You are worth it. No matter what you are telling yourself, you are.
Two important ways to practice self-care
Here are two simple ways to practice self-care. Notice I say simple, not easy.
Address your physical needs first, then tackle the to-do list
Eat lunch, get to bed on time, take your medications. Make sure those things are done first. Not only is this important, but it is critical in order for you to function as your best self. You will be able to accomplish all those other things more efficiently and effectively.
If you are not caring for these basic human needs, you will suffer and your blood sugar is going to reflect that. And, with highs and lows come the side effects (fatigue, irritability, brain fog), which affect your ability to do things for others and damages relationships.
Plus, this is a demonstration of prioritizing that helps to reinforce to yourself the value of your needs. This is a reminder to others, but most importantly, yourself.
Practice saying no
Ask yourself: “Is this something I actually need to do or something I feel obligated to do?”
Here is an example:
I recently had a client, let’s call her Terry, who is a caregiver for her elderly mother with dementia and Parkinson's. She was rushing on the way to her appointment with me when her mother asked if she would make Brussels sprouts for her, which caused her to be late and further fueled her anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed.
In this example, Terry does need to make sure her mother is well fed and had obviously done this in preparation to leave for the appointment, but she is not obligated to be a short-order cook and take requests on demand. Terry and I worked on communication strategies and boundary setting. We rehearsed an alternate response to her mother that went something like this: “I don’t have time to make you Brussel sprouts right now, mom. But if you are hungry, there are peanut butter crackers I can open up for you. And I can make Brussel sprouts this evening instead.”
Do you find it difficult to "eat right" and stick to a nutrition plan?