Exercise, medication, monitoring blood sugar, a healthy diet — when it comes to living with diabetes, there are many requirements to manage the condition. But another, often overlooked aspect is getting the diabetes support you need to balance the emotional toll that the condition can take on you.
When you’re facing any chronic health problem, you want to stay motivated — not only with help from friends, loved ones, and health care providers, but also from within. You can do this with mood-boosting strategies for staying positive. No matter how discouraged you might feel some days, there’s a lot you can do to tame negative thoughts andfocus on the positive.
Build Your Diabetes Support System
An essential part of handling the emotional impact of diabetes is finding good diabetes support — ideally not just from one person, but from a variety of people and groups. “The relationship you have with your family and friends will likely determine how well you can adhere to the principals of healthy living — if they don’t support you, you may struggle to stay on track,” says Carol Wysham, MD, an endocrinologist at the Rockwood Clinic in Spokane, Wash. “And having a good relationship with your health care team is very important — it keeps communication open, so you can choose treatment and lifestyle options that best fit into your life.” If any aspect of your plan isn’t working, you need to have the confidence to bring it up to a member of your health care team so you can try alternatives that will help you feel better.
To help you toward your goal to manage diabetes, think of expanding your social networks to include both a diabetes support group and an exercise group, which could be just a few friends you go to the gym with or join for walks around the neighborhood, for example.
Set Short-Term Goals
Having a laundry list of long-term goals to manage diabetes andachieve overall good health can lead to frustration and even failure. That’s why it’s better to focus on smaller accomplishments — such as losing a few pounds over the next two weeks, walking an extra block, or having a healthy breakfast every day, Dr. Wysham says. “Attainable, short-term goals are important — setting huge goals that can’t be measured can cause you to give up,” she says. “Make sure you’re coached by your doctor or diabetes educator on smart goals that you can reach and feel sooner.”
Give Yourself Healthy Rewards
Everyone likes recognition for a job well done, but when you achieve your diabetes health goals, don’t reward yourself with a drink or an ice cream sundae, which could derail your diabetes diet. A better way to celebrate is with an activity you enjoy that boosts your mood or improves your health. “Use non-edible rewards like a visit to the hairdresser, a professional manicure, or buying a bottle of your favorite perfume,” says Daisy Merey, MD, PhD, a family physician and author of Don’t Be a Slave to What You Crave. “A nice, soothing bubble bath while reading a light-hearted magazine will do as well,” Dr. Merey says. “Playing with kids is a big motivator, too. Going for a night out dancing or bowling are some great active options.” Fun, inexpensive choices can include renting a movie you’ve been wanting to see, giving yourself an at-home facial, or inviting a friend over to catch up.
Find Strength in Numbers
As lonely as you might feel in your quest to manage diabetes, you’re not alone in living with the condition. Almost 26 million Americans have some form of diabetes, and another 79 million have prediabetes. “You don’t want to wallow in self-pity,” Merey says. “Many other people have the same condition. Living with diabetes is a major life adjustment, but others are doing it and surviving well. Find out from your doctor and others how you can optimally improve your life. The mistakes of others can be your lessons,” she says.
Focus on Health Improvements
As you start to reach your health goals, mark each one on the calendar or in a journal and use them as motivation to continue moving forward. These can be measurable improvements, such as weight loss and better cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, as well as emotional boosts in how you feel. “A positive attitude can decrease your stress hormone level and improve your blood sugar and blood pressure,” says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Stress management while managing diabetes is very important.” Dr. Hatipoglu said he knows a person with diabetes who changed his high-stress, high-responsibility job to a lower-pay, lower-stress position. “He was a different person within six months, including having much better diabetes control, improved mood, better sleep — everything,” he adds. Although changing jobs may not be feasible for you, pay attention to what causes you stress and look for ways to counter it.
Prepare for Setbacks
You may experience setbacks in your diabetes care. When they occur, the key is to get yourself back on track quickly, and not use the unexpected slip as an excuse to go backwards. “I always emphasize the importance of making small lifestyle changes that you can build on,” Wysham says. She stresses that just 10 minutes of exercise a day can be a realistic goal that will make you feel great. She also adds that “backsliding is common, and you should evaluate any barriers and try again with a different activity, at different time of day, in a different place.”
The road to living well with diabetes is not always a smooth and straight one, but it’s one you can navigate successfully with the right support and a positive attitude in place.