Diabetes Burnout: What Is It And How Can You Manage It?
Diabetes burnout is incredibly common, and not something you should panic about. Here are some useful tips & tricks I've picked up to help me better cope.
When it comes to managing your diabetes, have you ever felt like …?
“I can’t be bothered anymore”
“I just don’t care”
Well, that’s diabetes burnout (or diabetes distress as it’s also known!)
Everyone tends to go through these emotions when living with diabetes, but sometimes it can really start to impact your mental health and the ability to look after yourself.
So from someone who has experienced diabetes burnout quite a number of times with type 1 diabetes, I thought I’d put together a little post on what it is, and some tips for dealing with diabetes burnout.
What is diabetes burnout?
I don’t think there is an official statement, but it’s essentially a state of mind in which someone with diabetes grows tired of managing their condition, and then simply ignores it for a period of time, or in some cases, forever.
It can be referred to as a number of things including diabetes distress, diabetes exhaustion or just burnout.
Diabetes burnout can be experienced by anyone who is suffering from ANY form of diabetes, but it tends to be particularly present in those living with type 1 diabetes.
This is simply because one of the “perks” of having type 1 diabetes is that you constantly have to live with it ... 24/7.
There is no quick break, or pause button, and after a period of time, that can become pretty darn frustrating.
Never ever think that someone suffering from diabetes burnout is just lazy, this isn’t the case.
Nor does it mean they’re depressed, it can simply mean they’re struggling with the overwhelming (at times) aspects of living with a chronic condition-- and that’s completely normal!
Symptoms of diabetes burnout
If you’re wondering what diabetes burnout actually looks like, then I’ve put together a couple of indicators, but these won’t be applicable to everyone.
- Feeling like diabetes is controlling you, and not the other way round
- Strong negative feelings such as, despair, sadness, frustration, or anger with diabetes
- Feeling lonely in your life and management with type 1 diabetes, and isolating yourself further
- Feeling unmotivated to test your blood sugar levels, count carbs, or give insulin, sometimes even treat highs or lows, because you think “what’s the point?”
These are all general thoughts and feelings that are commonly associated with diabetes burnout, and perhaps even reading those feelings and being able to associate them with a cause is a step in the right direction to overcoming diabetes burnout.
How can I help manage or avoid diabetes burnout?
Unfortunately, the reality is, living and coping with diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes, is pretty darn hard.
There is a lot to contend with on a daily basis, and it can quickly become overwhelming.
Diabetes management will always be difficult, until there is a cure, but that doesn’t mean there aren't things we can put in place to help ease stress and to help overcome these feelings.
1. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
When you’re first diagnosed with diabetes, you can get a lot of new information in a very short space of time, and you typically find you have this new found motivation to “do well”.
And so, you set yourself up for success in all the right ways, but you suddenly realize that diabetes doesn't always do what you want it to do, despite all your best efforts.
This can lead to you eventually getting fed up, fruited and simply wanting to give up. THIS IS NORMAL. It’s okay!
You have a right to feel this well, but don’t put all that pressure on yourself.
It’s never going to be 100%, so only do what you can do, and don’t expect everything to be perfect.
Once you accept this, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to manage your expectations.
2. Surround yourself with support
You can always turn to your family and friends for support, and whilst that’s important, you might feel they don’t quite “get it” or truly understand how you feel.
And that’s only normal, because they can’t possibly, but they can comfort and listen to you.
BUT, if you want support or to connect with someone who actually does know how you're feeling, then surround yourself with the diabetic community.
The diabetes community is world class, and there are so many forms of support for diabetics out there.
There are website resources, there are online forums, Facebook groups, actual meet-up groups, discovery days, phone lines, pen pals and so much more!
Some great Facebook groups include:
Even if you’re shy, there’s still a way to connect with the diabetic community. Don’t underestimate the comfort of this type of support, and if you haven’t given it a go yet, then trust me, it’s time.
I avoided it for a long time, and it wasn’t until I really connected with people who could relate to my feelings, did I start to process my feelings better.
Some other great resources include:
3. Allow yourself to feel sad
Lots of times, we often never actually allow ourselves to feel sad or frustrated. We always use the excuse of “it could be worse”.
And whilst that may be true on occasion, that doesn’t take away from the fact that having a chronic illness is downright hard.
So you’re allowed to feel sad, you’re allowed to be angry, and it’s important you allow those feelings to surface, so that you can face them, deal with them and move on from them. It’s actually unhealthy if you hide these feelings, because it can lead to feelings of despair, and it just makes you want to give up.
Or at least, that’s how it can be from my own personal experience.
I like this website as a resource for some ways to boost your mood!
4. Create small goals and small steps
If you look at diabetes management as one big thing, you’re definitely going to feel overwhelmed.
Finger pricks, carb counting, weighing foods, eating low carb adjusting blood sugars, reductions in insulin for heat, sex, exercise, alcohol and diabetes, nighttime hypos, setting alarms…..it all sounds like A LOT.
But, if you break all these things down into manageable items, it becomes less overwhelming.
Managing diabetes is hard, so, start with small goals, and create small steps.
So if you feel like you’re stuck in a diabetes burnout stage, then set yourself a goal of testing your blood glucose 3 times a day.
That’s it, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then when you hit those goals, you can create more. Take things at your own pace. You know yourself better than anyone else.
5. Take a break
In my daily diabetes lifestyle, I tend to eat similar foods that I know the carbs for, the insulin, and I know how my body will react to it.
This is actually quite a diverse range of foods, because I travel, but for example, I always have eggs for breakfast, with no carbs, because it just works for me.
But one day a year, (maybe more), on my birthday, I throw caution to the wind and I eat whatever the hell I want.
It’s okay to take a break from “diabetes”.
Obviously that doesn’t mean not checking your blood sugars or giving insulin. But it does mean not worrying or criticizing yourself if you go high or low, because of that.
6. Seek further help or advice if you feel you need too
If you feel like you’re constantly suffering from diabetes burnout, and it’s something that’s affecting your whole life, and not just your diabetes care, then it may be necessary to seek further help and advice from medical professionals if needed.
I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for around 15 years now, and I know the difference between my diabetes burnout, and me falling into a general mental health funk.
So just be wary, and if you feel like you can’t cope at any stage, then make sure you seek further advice. Never ever suffer in silence.
6. Make use of new diabetes technology
Lots of people can fall into a diabetes burnout stage because they’re frustrated with testing their blood sugars, or afraid of needles etc.
Nowadays we are super lucky to have devices that can actually alleviate some of these stresses and pressures.
For example, if you don’t like finger pricks, you can make use of awesome gadgets like the Dexcom or FreeStyle Libre, or even a Genteel device which is a painless way of extracting blood from your body.
Or if you want more control over your blood sugars, perhaps you could look into an insulin pump.
The use of these devices may help reduce your diabetes burnout as your management becomes less stressful.
The more you feel like you’re in control of your diabetes, and it doesn't control you, then the less likely you’ll suffer from diabetes burnout, for a prolonged period of time.
Another fantastic tool is the MiaoMiao sensor which can more affordably turn your FreeStyle Libre into a CGM - for more info, check out my complete MiaoMiao sensor review.
7. Don’t overthink complications
When you’ve had a few days, a couple of weeks, or maybe longer of blood sugars that aren’t well controlled, it can be very easy to go down the road to thinking about “complications” and the damage that could be done.
I used to freak out every time I had a hypo, thinking it was one step closer to losing my eyesight.
This is NOT the way to think about complications.
If you look after your diabetes management, and you do the best you can, then having fluctuations in your blood sugar, is not directly going to cause complications.
Complications tend to occur because of a prolonged bad management experience. So don’t overwhelm yourself with what could happen.
You can’t control everything, but you can give it your best shot.
My experience with diabetes burnout
So I’ve had type 1 diabetes for over 10 years now and I’ve experienced diabetes burnout a handful of times.
It typically lasts either a couple of days, but I’ve had an experience that lasted a couple of weeks. I just became frustrated with the overwhelming nature of diabetes.
I felt like it was controlling me, and despite all my efforts, I couldn’t get what I wanted from my diabetes.
So I basically gave up.
I gave insulin, but I wasn’t worried about my blood sugar, or if the insulin was the right amount.
When I feel like this, I like to “start again”. I kind of pretend like I’m starting from the beginning and I do the things that I was once told I needed to do. I put small steps in, and gradually I get back into the swing of things.
The first time I experienced diabetes burnout, I never really sought help. I avoided the diabetes community, because I thought that connecting with others would basically make the disease “real” to me, and I don’t think I’d fully accepted that this was for life, at the time.
But when I made the choice to join a couple of Facebook groups, and an Instagram page for my diabetes, it was such an overwhelming sense of support and positivity, and I couldn't’ believe I convinced myself that avoiding this community was a good idea!
I haven’t experienced diabetes burnout a lot lately, where I give up on my management, but I 100% have a diabetes depression/breakdown every few months.
I’ve accepted that this is actually part of my management of life with diabetes, and I need that time to feel angry and frustrated. I give myself a day or too to throw a pity party, then I start again!
And that’s how I manage, and you’ll find a way to help yourself manage too.
I hope that this post on diabetes burnout has proved useful to you. All my advice is based on my own experience of living with type 1 diabetes for 11 years (as of writing).
Please remember that I am not a medical professional, and just because my advice worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you. BUT, there’s certainly no harm in trying.
Now I'd love to hear from you.
What's been your experience with diabetes burnout?
Do you have any top tricks up your sleeve that helps you in times of burnout?
Drop me a comment below ...
Other posts you may find useful: