How often do you think about your diabetes? Do you feel like you’re never NOT thinking about your diabetes? How about management strategies? Are you exercising? Wearing good shoes? Checking your blood sugar regularly?
How about complications? You know that diabetes can damage your feet… oh, and every other part of your body. You are making sure to take care of every possible health concern at all times, right? Oh, and do it with a smile!
If you find yourself so overwhelmed that you start to not care anymore, you may be experiencing diabetes burnout. Diabetes burnout may not be a formally recognized diagnosis, but it’s definitely real. It’s also a common struggle—most type 1’s deal with it as well as many type 2’s.
What is diabetes burnout?
Diabetes burnout is a period of disillusionment and frustration. It’s when a person gets so exhausted from dealing with diabetes that they stop caring. They may do the bare minimum for management or even stop altogether. Burnout can be a person’s way of trying to ignore or forget the reality of their disease.
Doctor William Polonsky, author of Diabetes Burnout: What To Do When You Can’t Take It Anymore, shared this wisdom about people with burnout: “They are male and female, young and old, new to diabetes and veterans of the disease. They are not bad, stupid, or weak people. They are normal folks who are struggling with diabetes for understandable reasons. And their struggles take many shapes.”
Here are 10 things to keep in mind to consider when you or a loved one is experiencing diabetes burnout:
1. Recognize Your Burnout
It’s hard to deal with something if you won’t admit to yourself that it’s there. One of the first, and most essential, steps of going through burnout is recognizing it. Take a deep breath and admit to yourself what you are feeling without judgement or excuses. Don’t tell yourself it’s no big deal or that other people have bigger problems. Tell yourself that it’s OK to experience emotions—the goal is not to let your emotions dictate your actions, not to ignore your emotions altogether.
Respect yourself by recognizing your frustration and allowing yourself to work through it. You can’t begin by burying your head in the sand!
2. Banish Guilt
You cannot beat burnout by telling yourself how wrong you are for dealing with it (in fact, guilt may have been a part of what triggered burnout in the first place). No more guilt. No one is perfect, and most people aren’t even as good as they seem, so don’t feel bad for not meeting a standard that doesn’t really exist!
You may feel like a failure. Maybe you haven’t checked your levels all day. Maybe you’ve just been guessing on your insulin. This does not mean you are a failure. This does not mean you are incapable or a bad, lazy person. These judgements are not only inaccurate, but harmful. Your worth isn’t measured by your glucose meter.
3. Find friends
Your friends, if they are worth having, want to help you. But they need to know how to help, especially if they don’t have diabetes themselves. It could be as easy as asking for some extra texts or diabetes-friendly dinner dates. Spending time with friends and having someone listen (without judgement!) can be a huge help all in itself. You may need to ask for bigger favors, like babysitting or help with errands, and you should do so. That’s what friends are for!
It can be especially helpful to hear from friends, or even strangers, that know what you’re going through. Try as they might, a non-diabetic friend just can’t understand the drama of the carbohydrate-and-insulin tightrope walk. Consider joining a super-convenient online community for support (find some here). You can also search here to find your local American Diabetes Association to find out about events and support groups in your area.
4. Create Space
In a culture that both demands more and more of our time and increasingly associates busyness with social status, taking a break is not only hard, but it can feel wrong or selfish. But always being busy, especially if we’re crowding out the things that we actually enjoy, can stifle creativity and lead to mental and physical exhaustion. We have to learn to value unscheduled time.
Grab a pen and paper and list the activities that you do in your leisure time—from checking Facebook to doodling on Post-its. Which ones help you to relax? It could be that spending an hour with Netflix is good family time and helps you unwind. Or it could be that it’s just sucking an hour of your life without giving much back. Try to eliminate the time-suck activities that don’t give you a good return on your time investment. Recognize moments of unscheduled time and resist the urge to fill them with activities.
5. Find a creative outlet
Talking to people can be a huge help, but sometimes your brain needs to express things it can’t quite put into words. Creativity helps reduce stress and focuses your mental energy on something you enjoy. Most people enjoy being creative in one way or another, but busyness and stress sucks the creative juices from our veins. Taking time for ourselves and finding a way to create creates calm and purpose, and this can help us have the mental capacity to manage diabetes.
Creativity can also be a great way to blow off steam. It helps us sort through our emotions and turn them into something positive (think about journaling or art therapy). If you have trouble giving yourself permission to be creative, just remember that it will help you in other areas of your life! If you’re looking for an easy way to start, pick up one of those adult coloring books and go to town!
6. Be Less Informed
Having diabetes usually means being part of a diabetes community. Maybe you follow The Diabetes Site Blog, get email newsletters from the American Diabetes Association, and pay special attention to diabetes-related news. Good for you!
But being constantly bombarded about how diabetes can affect your every move and every body part is exhausting. Constantly hearing about why you should control diabetes can leave you zapped of the energy required to actually do it. Simplify: keep in contact with your doctor, decide to do the best you can, and unplug anything that triggers stress or fear. It’s important to stay informed, but do so on your own terms.
7. There’s an app for that
Unplugging and unwinding is great, but tech can often help make diabetes management easier and more fun. Are you using an app? There are a ton of useful diabetes apps (check out a list here) designed to help you meet nutrition goals, calculate insulin needs, and communicate with your doctor. If you’re trying to meet a goal, having your progress tracked can be motivating, and keeping your numbers all in one place is handy. Find an app that makes management a snap (or at least a little easier)!
8. Lower Expectations
Striving for perfect blood sugar numbers and constantly being disappointed can suck the pep right out of your step. Offer yourself some grace as you would to a friend or loved one. Perfection is rarely attainable and never sustainable, and striving for it will lead to burnout.
Think of your numbers like a report card—it is really worth it to stay up all night studying for straight A’s? Won’t you likely be just as successful in life if you don’t beat yourself up about a few B’s and C’s? And hey, even D’s equal degrees. Sure, you might not graduate with honors, but you can enjoy blowing off a homework assignment now and then. If you shoot for good instead of perfect you can always be pleasantly surprised, but if you shoot for perfect you’ll more often be disappointed.
9. Be mindful of the risk of depression
Burnout can look and feel a lot like depression but still be something you can push through. But burnout can also be a sign of depression, and depression shouldn’t be dismissed as “just burnout.” If you feel hopeless, like your life is worthless, or have suicidal thoughts, please reach out to someone you can trust right away. Even if you don’t know anyone to reach out to, help can be just a text away.
People with diabetes are more likely to suffer from loneliness and depression and are encouraged to be proactive in talking about their mental health. Reach out to friends and doctors for support. We’re rooting for you!
10. Know Yourself and Plan Accordingly
We often put ourselves last and focus on “pushing through” or just “keeping our heads above water.” But barreling through stress means we won’t learn what are real triggers are. Everyone has certain people, events, situations, or even times of the year that set them on edge. Knowing what those things are can help you recognize when you’re reacting to them. Perspective is a life-saver.
Paying attention to triggers and stressors can help you respond to them specifically rather than randomly lashing out at others or yourself. Sometimes even just knowing there’s a reason for your stress, or that there is no reason and you just need a break, can help you reject the lie that “everything is horrible and I should just give up.”
Burnout is normal, but you are an amazing, unique individual who’s worth taking care of! Let go of perfection, stress, and too-tight control and embrace taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Focus on the good things in your life, and you will likely be more inspired to pull out of burnout and do the best you can with management. Until then, be kind to yourselves, friends!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.