Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist, diabetes coach, and person with diabetes.
“Diabetes Burnout” has become a buzzword in the past few years, but what is diabetes burnout? How does it impact your life, and how do you prevent it?
Burnout occurs because diabetes is a highly stressful job, and diabetes management is never as simple as 1 + 1 = 2.
Imagine it's time for dinner, and you’ve planned everything out perfectly: carbs: check, insulin: check, blood sugar: check! And you are good to go. But, wait! Something’s wrong, and your sugar skyrockets. For some, the frustration starts, along with self-blame and anger. These feelings build up over time making diabetes management so stressful that we want to hide and make it go away.
Imagine another scenario where you have to get to work, but as you head out the door, your blood sugar is low, and you get to make yet another call to work: “I’m running late. I know, I know, I will be there soon as possible.”
Living with constant blood tests, injections, and monitoring along with emotional shifts that happen over and over again takes its toll, and over time, you may feel worn out, not only physically, but also emotionally.
Signs you are burned out
I got diagnosed with diabetes on September 18th, 1977. Since then, I have encountered diabetes burnout more times than I actually know. Many people have it without knowing they are in its vicious cycle that interferes with managing their diabetes. Some health professionals may even see it before you do.
But don’t worry. Here are some things to look for:
- You struggle to check your blood sugars when it used to be easy for you
- You no longer care if your blood sugars are in control
- You have a general feeling of exhaustion
- You would rather not know what your blood sugars are
- You isolate yourself from people who helped support your diabetes management
- You stop going to necessary doctors’ appointments
- You feel paralyzed when it’s time to manage diabetes (test blood sugar, give a shot, etc.)
Positive thinking about the tasks required to manage diabetes is a big factor when it comes to avoiding burnout. Those who look at diabetes management through a negative lens tend to have more periods of burnout. Seeing blood sugar tests as a chore leads to frustration and pent up anger over time. On the other hand, looking at diabetes management as only a few minutes to feel better or avoid feeling sick helps you feel healthier and builds self-esteem. It also contributes to the feeling of being in control.
Having patience leads to less stress when living with diabetes. If you are caught in a rip current while swimming at the beach, instinct and the need to resolve the problem immediately tells you to swim to shore. But if you do that, you will struggle against the current and may drown. A better approach when you feel the pull of the current is to give yourself time and stay calm. Once you realize you can't move toward the beach, you can change the course. Swim with the current along the beach. The current eventually dies down, and you can swim to shore—to safety.
If your blood sugar is high two hours after you eat and you give more insulin, you may be swimming against the current. If you have another two hours of onboard insulin, you risk a low blood sugar reaction. If you don’t go with your initial reaction to fix it now, giving the onboard insulin a chance to work, your blood sugars may return to normal in a few hours.
Flexibility through acceptance can greatly reduce stress that leads to burnout. In the example above, fighting a rip current causes a person to struggle. Accepting you can’t move forward allows you to change course. Accepting what is happening at the moment and the willingness to change your course can create better outcomes.
I find talking very helpful. Make sure that it is with those close to you who are capable of listening to you without bias or giving you unsolicited advice about your frustrations with diabetes. Good psychotherapists tend to be careful listeners and can be useful to reduce frustration to avoid diabetes burnout or help you work through your feeling when you are in a diabetes burnout phase.
You might already be doing some or all of these things. Keep in mind that diabetes is a hard job. Most people already have several jobs (school, work, parenting, etc.), making diabetes burnout unavoidable from time to time. The goal is to reduce how many times you burnout. And if you do find yourself in the grip of diabetes burnout, seek help from a mental health professional.
To learn more about Eliot LeBow and his expertise, you can visit his website Diabetic Talks.