What is diabetes burnout?
“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?