Looking After Your Mental Health
Whether You Believe You Can Or Can't, You're Right
Mental health is still a stigma around the world. It is difficult to understand and therefore, difficult to treat. Many of us don’t see our mental health in the same way as we do our physical health but this is wrong, We need to evolve our way of thinking so that we support our emotional wellbeing as well as our physical.
It will never be a 'one size fits all' fix. We require individualised holistic treatments that focus on multiple fronts.
Personal trainers, psychologists, dieticians, social workers, fellow diabetics, and doctors will all provide vital insights into building a better you.
When you have diabetes this is an overwhelming truth. We will go through trauma and stress that snowballs and one day, you simply burn out. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We must constantly monitor our emotional state and manage it just as we would our glucose levels.
So let's go back to basics and increase our knowledge of mental health and one of its main contributing components, stress. Once we know what to look for, we can begin to manage it.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
It’s a lovely statement, but how many of us can truly say we tick all these boxes?
As I read this, I noticed the words ‘normal stresses of life‘ and thought to myself, well, there’s nothing normal about diabetics stress. We deal with factors that can affect our health, on both a short and long term basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of our lives. The reality of managing diabetes is both humbling and terrifying.
No Longer A Death Sentence
It is vitally important we have mental mechanisms at hand to call upon to ensure we put our lives into perspective. Otherwise, we run the risk of digging ourselves a very deep and insular hole. Simply put, “I am alive. Many are not”. “I can still function to a level that many cannot”. “I can do almost everything that someone without diabetes can do”. These statements might sound clichè but they are very real.
Try and remind yourself that although diabetes is severe it can be managed, whereby many conditions simply cannot. Unfortunately, we can no longer compare our health with that of someone without diabetes. We have to acknowledge that we have a condition that we MUST take charge of. That includes, importantly, our mental health.
“I used to joke with my wife that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she got the short term disease and I got the long term one. Her’s could end her life now and mine could end it later. (We have a dark sense of humour)”
Stress, on the other hand, is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action.
This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles, to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion. The effect of this response is an increase in blood glucose levels.
So by identifying the stress, we can therefore, begin to understand how better to manage its impact.
Tackling The Cause Of Stress
What Diabetics Stress About
This question is, of course, subjective. But when we increase our knowledge on diabetes and all the things that go along with it; i.e. diet, exercise, technology, etc; we begin to lessen that stress because whether you realise it or not, you’re managing potentially stressful situations before they begin to snowball.
For many, stress comes from unstable blood sugars. But for me to take control and manage this, I had to fully understand what causes unstable blood sugars. I could then make small changes and steps that contributed toward more consistent numbers. I had to see the improvements.
I also had to learn to let go a little. There will be times when your blood sugars will be erratic, due to a virus or stress at work, etc, but if you know how to make small changes to your regimen to lessen the rollercoaster of blood sugars then you can also lessen that stress.
Here is an example of learning steps to stop the snowball of stress;
You Feel A Cold Coming On - What Do You Do?
1) Make sure you have various cold and flu medications in the house (no-sugar varieties)
2) Begin taking them immediately to potentially lessen the severity and length of your cold.
3) Increase your long acting insulin by at least 20%. This will ensure there is less of a rise in blood sugars throughout the day.
4) Stay home and sleep. Don’t increase your stress by going into work and trying to meet a deadline. Your body needs rest and recuperation.
5) Drink fluids. Lots and lots of fluids (avoid coffee and alcohol). You must stay hydrated. Ketones can rise when you’re dehydrated.
6) Eat normally. Don’t eat less to offset the rise in blood sugars. Your body still needs food and it will help keep your ketones lower.
7) Check your BGL often. Take appropriate rapid-acting insulin when eating.
More Tips To Help With Managing Stress
Speak to family, friends, fellow T1D’s, Counsellors, diabetic educators, doctors, endocrinologists, and whoever else will listen. The more you feel you’re not alone, the better.
Any internet based forum or community is useful in increasing your knowledge and being supported. Join Facebook groups dedicated to sharing and supporting fellow diabetics. I have found many of these invaluable and usually get a response in seconds. These groups range from official JDRF T1D to more generic diabetes support across the planet. There’s even more specific groups like Freestyle Libre users and followers of Dr Bernstein’s low carb diet.
You will inevitably become an expert on all things diabetes, but if you can increase your knowledge on diet, exercise, and any other external factors that play a key role in the management of Diabetes, this will help alleviate stress as you manage it moving forward.
They may be stressful but keeping on top of your health (even if you don’t think anything is wrong) is vital. Make sure you have strict timelines of when you need to check-in with your Endocrinologist (Endo), Diabetes Educator (DE), Ophthalmologist, Podiatrist, and Dentist. If you know where you are regarding your health, that is empowering NOT debilitating. It will also allow you to make better-educated changes to improve your health. “With Diabetes, what you don’t know, will hurt you”. (if you’re not confident in your Doctor, Endo, Dentist, etc, change them.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. Your mental health will improve as you get fitter and stronger. There is also a strong link to the social nature of sport and exercise and it playing a vital role in supporting your mental health.
Eat clean and whole foods. It will benefit your mental health in a number of ways, not least helping you balance your blood sugars. There is a link between junk foods and depression so don't force the issue and ditch the high carb, highly processed food to gain a greater perspective and a rosier disposition.
Where Do I Get Support
Start by visiting your doctor. They can set you on the right path and also recommend key medical professionals that can support you. This includes psychologists, diabetes educators, dieticians, social workers and more.