Managing Feelings of Stress, Anger, and Depression
While most of diabetes management is about blood sugar control, learning to control your emotions in a positive way is also an important part of diabetes care.
We all have some stress in our lives. Stress is what happens when we face a physical or mental challenge and need to deal with it. So, if one is injured or becomes ill, that’s a source of physical stress. Losing a job, accidentally bouncing a check, or having a fight with one’s partner or child, those are all sources of mental stress.
When managing type 1 diabetes, stress can affect blood sugar in 2 ways:
- Directly: Stress hormones that are supposed to release extra energy for a “fight or flight” response can wind up raising blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes or, in some people, even lowering it!
- Indirectly: People under stress may have a harder time taking care of their diabetes needs. They may feel that they don’t have as much time to exercise or don’t pay close enough attention to what they are eating as they should. They may turn to unhealthy things to relieve stress, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or stress eating
The first step in reducing stress is to identify and avoid the things that cause one stress (stressors), if at all possible. For instance, maybe it would feel less stressful for some people to take the train to work rather than dealing with driving in traffic. For others, it may be the opposite. Perhaps the sense of control that driving one’s own vehicle can provide is more relaxing for some people than dealing with train schedules and delays. Each one of us deals with life’s stressors in different ways. The key message of stress is “something has to change.” If one can’t remove the stressors from one’s life, then finding other ways of either changing the situation, changing one’s attitude, or doing other things that can fight stress is necessary.
Some of the things one can try to lower stress include:
- Being physically active: Whether it’s starting an exercise program, playing a pick-up game of basketball at the local recreational center, taking a dance class, or just taking a walk to blow off steam, do not underestimate the power of moving to relieve stress
- Starting a new hobby: Taking some personal time to learn a craft, build a collection, or pursue other interests can help to relieve stress
- Doing volunteer work: Some people find it rewarding to volunteer at a hospital or charity. It can feel good to create positive change and take the focus off of one’s own personal problems for short periods of time
Maybe all of these things will work for you (and/or the person you care for) or maybe something else will. The important thing is to try different things and figure out what will calm you down and allow you to feel less pressured and more positive.
Anger is a natural part of life. Sometimes it is a way the body alerts us to potential threats and dangers. So, while out-of-control anger can be harmful, understanding the reasons for one’s anger can help one turn it around and use the energy anger provides in a positive way.
Often anger is a reaction to things that are beyond our control. For instance, trying to get very high blood sugar under control can be an extremely frustrating task. Especially if one is following their care plan and it’s still not working. It’s enough to make one angry. There are 2 choices in this situation:
- Feel the anger without knowing how to direct it
- Channel that angry energy into doing something that might lower blood sugar—like taking a run to burn off that frustration, hitting a punching bag, or just taking a walk
Figuring out what the anger is really about can also help. Sometimes people with diabetes who are very angry realize it’s because they haven’t completely come to terms with their diabetes diagnosis and accepted it. If this sounds like you, or the person you care for with type 1 diabetes, it may be time to get some help. Some people find that joining a support group helps and it may be time to contact a professional counselor or therapist to help you (and/or your loved one) work through the anger.
Is it depression or something else?
Everyone gets sad and feels down once in a while. But feeling sad and hopeless most of the day for 2 weeks or more could be a sign of depression. For more information on the signs of depression, click here.
Many times if one is feeling depressed, there can actually be physical rather than emotional reasons behind it. Diabetes that is not well-controlled may look and feel a lot like depression:
- High blood sugar during the day can make one feel tired or anxious
- High blood sugar at night may cause frequent urination, which could disrupt sleep and lead to feeling tired the next day
- Low blood sugar during the day can lead to hunger and eating too much
- Low blood sugar at night could also cause restless or interrupted sleep
- Alcohol or drug abuse, thyroid problems, and medication side effects can also cause depression-like symptoms
If you think that you, or the person you care for, may be suffering from depression, talk to your or their health care provider. He or she can help treat or rule out physical causes. And if counseling and/or medicine for depression is needed, most health care providers can either help you directly or provide a referral to a mental health professional who can.