How to cope with work stress (and diabetes)
Our regular guest writer Maryna has some advice to share today about work stress and diabetes. How do you cope with work stress? Maryna shares some helpful tips that have made it easier for her to stay calm.
Stress and diabetes
Life is stressful. In my experience, diabetes and stress don’t play well together.
There are many factors that cause stress, some of them we have no control over, but other factors we can control. Personally, work life is my largest source of a clenched stomach, short breath and continual headaches. Gone are the days when loyalty and hard work paid off: this utopia that my parents so often talk about, I have never encountered.
In my youthful ignorance I chose to pursue a career in advertising. Now, I can’t speak for other industries. But I’ve certainly spent my last fifteen years working eighteen hour days, sleeping badly, drinking too much coffee, fighting stomach ulcers and being guilted into working weekends and holidays.
Constant work pressure
Rising up the ranks didn’t make things any easier, as the work and hours didn’t get any less, but the pressure and stress multiplied exponentially.
Don’t misunderstand me: I love what I do and I’m good at it. Most of my fellow creatives are amazing, brilliant people and the fact that I can wear what I want to work is a massive plus in my eyes! I’ve achieved what many others in the industry never do and enjoyed a career that has given me many opportunities to grow, but what did I sacrifice in the process?
It’s difficult coping in these high stress, high output environments, both physically and mentally. Adding diabetes to the already toxic mix makes it even harder. Looking back at the last couple of years, I can’t say that I would do everything over again and not regret it. My body and soul have taken a beating in so many ways and I certainly have the scars and stories to prove it.
Stress coping mechanisms (for a diabetic)
How do you cope in this crazy stressful world as a diabetic?
It’s taken me many years to learn this, but firstly: come to terms with your condition. I have this innate drive to not admit that anything is wrong with me. I spent years thinking that my diabetes was a weakness. Many of the things that my co-workers do effortlessly leave me in a near catatonic state for days. I have to sleep, I have to eat, some days I’m exhausted beyond measure, I get headaches, my ankles swell up, the list goes on and on, but it doesn’t make me a lesser employee.
Yes, I have issues, just like every other person around me. You have nothing to prove if you work at your best and deliver good work.
The secret here is that you can’t work your best if you feel like a half-asleep zombie all the time, and that’s a message that needs to come across to your superiors. Don’t let anyone guilt you into over-stretching yourself, don’t let anyone tell you that your diabetes is a problem. You can be just as productive as anyone else if you are responsible and give your body what it needs.
Be responsible for your diabetes
That brings us to point number two: be responsible. You, and only you, know your limits, and it’s different for all of us. Say STOP when you need it, and if your boss has a problem with that, then he’s most probably not a very good boss.
Look after your well-being, not only physically but mentally, I have found that your mental health has a lot more to do with healthy blood sugar levels than we are led to believe.
I am a strong believer in meditation and it has helped me to control my raging stress and emotions over time. This might not be true for you, it could something as simple as going to the gym every day or as complex as building a ten thousand piece puzzle. Find that thing that makes you calm. Find the space that gives you time to contemplate, analyse and solve your problems.
Educate others about diabetes
Thirdly: make sure those closest to you at work can recognise the signs when you lose the plot. Over the years I have become a master in casually talking about my diabetes, not in an aggressive or “feel sorry for me” way, just a casual chat. Educate those around you about your symptoms. I’ve found that at times I get so distracted by my work or a specific problem, that I don’t notice what my body is telling me. We’ve all had that unpleasant surprise hypo, that sneaks up from behind and leaves you a blubbering, confused mess.
Fortunately, or rather unfortunately for those around me, I turn into the proverbial bear with a thorn in its paw, so it’s obvious when my blood sugar is on the low side. Always make sure that there is at least one person who can recognise the signs and make you aware of them before you get into trouble.
Lastly: if your gut is telling you something is wrong, there’s most probably something wrong. Go to the doctor if you feel anything odd is going on in your body. Stress does strange things to you: I’ve had everything, from odd circular dry patches on my skin to a septic ulcer that landed me in hospital with a sugar count of 48 mmol/L and a near-death experience. Needless to say, that experience taught me that you can never be too careful or vigilant when it comes to your diabetes.
Our bodies tend to react a lot more violently to issues that most non-diabetic people just brush off as nothing. Learn to know your body and how it reacts to different situations.
There is no right or wrong way to deal with stress. Be aware of what your body is telling you and take responsibility for that. Learn what helps you deal with your circumstances and practice that. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and defend your own health. Care for yourself and your work will surely flourish.