Diabetes Forecast

5 Ways to Avoid Diabetes Burnout

Overwhelmed by diabetes care? You’re not alone. Here’s how to get back on track

By Lindsey Wahowiak , ,
woman walking around tree with footprints on grass

Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Diabetes care, as you well know, requires daily attention. It’s no wonder that sometimes its constant management can wear a person down. When that happens, it’s easy to ignore parts—or all—of your diabetes care routine. “Diabetes burnout” happens to everyone from time to time. Here’s how to recognize it and get back on track.

1. Learn the signs.

How can you tell you’re dealing with burnout? Jen Enger, 33, of Park Ridge, Ill., can see it in her blood glucose readings. “For me, it’s a lot of high blood sugars and being kind of apathetic about that,” says Enger, a hospital program coordinator who has type 1 diabetes. “It’s letting my way of eating fall to the wayside. That’s usually when I can tell.” Numbers don’t lie—and Allison Nimlos, 29, of Minneapolis, knows that’s true about the numbers missing from her meter, too. “It’s reflected in my blood sugar: The numbers start to creep up, or there’s a complete lack of numbers,” says Nimlos, a writer with type 1 diabetes.

2. Identify triggers.

When there’s more on your plate in other areas of your life, you’re more likely to feel diabetes burnout, says Rosalind S. Dorlen, PsyD, public education coordinator for the American Psychological Society and a staff psychologist at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J. “People don’t just have diabetes in a vacuum; they still live a life, being parents, having kids, having spouses who might have health issues, economic issues.” Trying to pinpoint these additional stressors can help you understand what’s influencing your care of diabetes, Dorlen says. So take a step back—what in your life is causing you stress? Could that be contributing to your feelings of hopelessness, apathy, or anger about diabetes? You may not be able to stop the triggers, but being aware of them and how they affect your diabetes care is important.

3. Talk about it.

“I don’t know who discovered water,” Dorlen says, “but you can bet it wasn’t a fish.” Meaning? Sometimes you can’t tell when you’re in burnout mode yourself. So if you’re feeling a little off, it can help to talk to your family, friends, and diabetes care team. They might see changes in your behavior that you don’t notice. Enger, for example, leans on her husband for support when she’s feeling the burden of diabetes. “Recently, I kind of sensed I was getting toward a point where I was discouraged,” she says. “I told him I really needed a pep talk from him. Even though it was cheesy or awkward at first, he’s given me some encouragement in the morning, or he’s sent a text that’s been a real encouragement. It was powerful, and it was something that worked.”

4. Work with your team.

Your diabetes care team is there to look beyond your blood glucose numbers and consider how you’re feeling and coping, and then help you find ways to get back on track. Nimlos thinks of including her team as a way to ease her burnout burden. “When I realize I don’t understand these numbers, or I’m trying and I’m sick of trying, I reach out to my doctor or my diabetes educator,” she says. “I say, ‘Now this is your problem, too.’ ” Even that little step can help you feel better. It’s important to note that burnout can be a sign of depression, which also makes it difficult to take care of diabetes. Your health care provider can screen you for depression and suggest treatment.

5. Create “me” time.

Can you avoid all stressors? Probably not. But you can let off a little steam when you’re feeling diabetes-related stress—and that can help you stay on the steady. Taking some time to do enjoyable, healthy things—exercise, reading, gardening, volunteering—can certainly help. Sometimes Nimlos will post on social media about her diabetes frustrations. She calls it “a little geyser, instead of a volcano.” Another way to find burnout relief is to find kindred spirits: others coping with diabetes (“Peer Power”). Enger finds that even reading other people’s diabetes blogs can help. “Sometimes that is a silent way you can sit back, read, and see how these other people are getting through,” she says.

Feeling Blah?

Try the American Diabetes Association’s message boards. They’re filled with supportive people dealing with diabetes. Visit diabetes.org/messageboards. It’s common to feel burdened by the demands of diabetes care. Read more at diabetesforecast.org/distress.   



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