diabetes and depression
“Diabetes…. Uugh.” That feeling pretty much sums up what diabetes burnout is all about: the feeling that it’s too exhausting / frustrating / unpredictable / impossible to manage your diabetes, so why even try? Diabetes burnout is common in people with diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) and for good reason – it’s a chronic condition. Chronic as in forever, never giving you a break, never giving you a holiday, never giving you a moment’s rest. Add to that the fact that diabetes is an ever-changing condition, with blood sugar fluctuating depending on everything from your diet and exercise to hormones, weather, sickness and more, and it’s no surprise that people with diabetes sometimes feel exhausted by it all.
When you need to worry about diabetes burnout
“Diabetes burnout is a normal emotion for diabetics to feel at any given time,” explains Gabi Richter, a Type 1 diabetic and counsellor in Cape Town. “It occurs when you are fed up with the routine and lifestyle that being diabetic entails, and you just want to forget it all. This is fine to feel once in a while – and can even be healthy to some point. But it needs attention when the feeling stays for a long time and your routine diabetes care stops.”
This, of course, is the warning sign. If it feels like there’s no point taking care of your diabetes because you have no control any more, that’s when you stop paying attention to food and medication and self-care. And that’s when blood sugar levels can get wildly out of control. Extended periods of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) lead to diabetes complications, and in Type 1 diabetics, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can be extremely dangerous.
So what do you do if you’re experiencing diabetes burnout? Reach out. Connect. Realise you’re not alone. “Diabetes burnout is a very real issue for all the people I am privileged to educate and spend time with,” explains Kate Bristow, a diabetes specialist nurse in Pietermaritzburg, KZN. It’s a combination of the frustration of things: Never having a day off from diabetes. The guilt of not sticking to the right eating plan or forgetting to take medication or check blood sugar. The relentlessness of never being able to take time off from managing diabetes. “Burnout is often accompanied by stress and anxiety and sometimes depression or guilt – all negative emotions,” says Kate.
5 tips for diabetes burnout
Here are 5 pieces of advice Kate Bristow offers her patients.
Share your frustrations with someone – a family member, or diabetes nurse or educator. See if there are ways to decrease your burden for a while.
Try new diabetic-friendly recipes – a change is as good as a holiday.
Try practicing mindfulness – a practice based on learning to become aware of how you are feeling emotionally in a non-judgemental way. It has been found to be effective in supporting diabetes management and the general stress of everyday life. Eating mindfully has been shown to improve diabetes control.
Life is busy – stress is a way of life – defined as a state of emotional tension elicited by the pressure of everyday life. Diabetes is probably only one of those stresses. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels and alleviate depression as much as some medications used for the same purpose. Exercise is also good for our physical health – blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and diabetes. So perhaps another way of dealing with burnout is to get an accountability exercise partner and start getting physical at least 3 times a week (even if it’s only for 20 minutes at a go, or at work).
If you really feel like you are not coping – ask for help. This is why you have a health care team and a diabetes community. Ask your doctor, your diabetes educator, your diabetic community. You’re not alone in this.
Diabetes burnout is a reality for many of us with diabetes, but it doesn’t have to be a long-term reality. With the right help and care, it can be a phase we move through – just another part of living with this chronic condition. How do you cope with diabetes burnout? Do you have any tips to share?
Managing everyday life challenges can be hard for the strongest and most emotionally balanced people. But having diabetes changes the game and adds extra curve balls we need to deal with. Depression is a very common problem, but studies show that people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes are three time more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. With the constant management plan we have to follow, it’s no surprise that we are at greater risk for depression and anxiety.
Anxiety and depression can overlap with symptoms of diabetes, which make it harder to diagnose whether it is simply anxiety or rather depression that you are feeling. Anxiety can lead to depression if not treated correctly, but depression rarely leads to anxiety. Depression also has fewer symptoms, making it harder to diagnose.
Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which affects how you think and feel, and it can manifest in both emotional and physical symptoms. The thing to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression without fully feeling depressed, and if you are depressed it’s not easy to simply snap out of it.
There are six main symptoms to look out for when dealing with depression:
- A loss of appetite or any change in eating habits
- Feeling down all the time
- Any change in sleeping pattern
- Lack of energy
- Loss of interest in daily tasks that you used to enjoy
- Feeling irritable all the time.
These symptoms are very similar to anxiety, however the main difference is that when you are anxious you worry more about the future and current things that have either happened or could happen. When you feel depressed, you simply have no drive to do anything and can only see things from a negative space.
To understand more about depression, it’s helpful to know what’s happening in your body. Your mood is determined by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are released into the brain. When these levels are low, we start to experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Depression can feel a bit like anxiety and that is why it is often overlooked. A constant state of anxiety can show up in ways that make you feel physically sick, such as constant headaches, dry mouth, upset stomach and nausea.
To suffer from depression or to feel depressed does not mean that you are weak. Many people suffer from depression: it is an ancient disease that affects thousands of people, even famous people such as Winston Churchill. He used to call it his “black dog”.
As diabetics, we often have weaker metabolic and glycaemic control. This in turn can intensify depression symptoms: if not treated correctly, it can lead to diabetes burnout. We need to remember that when we experience depression or anxiety, the body reacts the same way it does to stress. The fight, flight, fright response is activated which releases adrenalin and cortisol into the blood stream, which in turn increases our sugar levels. There are many levels of depression ranging from mild to major: the levels don’t get worse, it’s simply the consequences and symptoms that change.
Depression affects everyone and people suffering from chronic conditions are at a higher risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. One of the most important things to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression and not look depressed. The symptoms for depression do not always manifest in the known ways: it is also linked to aches and pains in muscles or constant headaches.
So what’s the answer? We need to find ways to relax as much as we can and remember to listen to our bodies. You are not alone in this.