Diabetes distress is a condition unique to those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and though some symptoms may be similar to depression, it is not the same. Approximately 30 percent of people with diabetes experience diabetes distress at some point in their lives as a result of the constant vigilance required to manage their health.
Director of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute, William Polonsky, commented on the stress associated with a diabetes diagnosis, stating “The day you develop diabetes, it’s like the universe just handed you a new full-time job that you have to do in addition to whatever else you’re doing. It’s a special job that has a big impact on the rest of your life. There’s no pay and no vacation.”
Juggling the proper management of your disease along with the existing responsibilities in your life such as work, family, and bills can take a toll on your mental well-being.
Vice-president of lifestyle management at the American Diabetes Association, Alicia McAuliffe-Fogarty, explained: “Diabetes distress is the extra burden that people with diabetes have to carry. They have to do everything that other people do – take care of work, family, finances – and in addition they have to make sure to check their blood sugar, remember to take their medicine and/or adjust their insulin doses, count carbohydrates when they eat… It’s a day to day and minute to minute burden. It’s doing everything ‘right’ and still seeing your blood sugar levels go up.”
Diabetes distress is experienced as a variety of emotional responses that directly relate to having to shoulder the burden of this illness. Many may feel overwhelmed and experience frustration, sadness, and even anger as sometimes blood sugar and insulin levels do not react the way patients feel they should, despite their best efforts. This causes psychological distress that negatively impacts patients’ quality of life.
To combat diabetes distress, both Plosky and McAuliffe-Fogarty recommend making use of your social support, whether it be a parent, close friend or family, or your spouse. If managing the disease gets to feel too much, turn the responsibility over to someone you trust who understands your illness and how it is unique to you so you can take a sort of mini-vacation and relax for a short time. Having a loved one remind you to check your blood sugar, prepare appropriate meals and adjust insulin and/or other medications can relieve the stress and in turn, reduce your diabetes distress.