How to Cope with Diabetes Distress and Diabetes-Related Depression

Aimée José, RN, CDCES
September 3, 2021
5 mins

In recent years, science and society have been paying more attention to the connection between mental health and physical health. Managing a chronic health condition can bring up a lot of difficult feelings — exhaustion, frustration, anger, and sadness are common. And these feelings can have an impact on overall health. Studies have shown that depression is more common in people with diabetes — and when it’s present, it can be associated with poor health outcomes. So it’s important to talk honestly with your doctor about how you’re feeling, and to prioritize self-care and your mental health. At Carbon Health, we understand the importance of mental health and have a team of diabetes experts ready to work with you on all aspects of your well-being. 

Diabetes Distress

A person who is managing their diabetes faces an often overwhelming number of things to pay attention to on a daily basis. The challenge of managing it all can lead to diabetes distress (which is different from depression). Symptoms of diabetes distress include:

     • Frequently feeling angry or frustrated about the demands of managing diabetes

     • Worrying about how you’re managing diabetes but lacking motivation to make recommended lifestyle changes

     • Avoiding medical appointments or checking blood sugar levels

If you’re experiencing these feelings, know that you are not alone. Diabetes distress is a common emotional response to living with a chronic, demanding condition, and it is diagnosed frequently in people who are living with diabetes. Reach out to your healthcare team when you’re feeling challenged. 

You may also want to consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a small sensor that sits under your skin, does not hurt to wear (though there may be some discomfort when it is placed), and continually measures glucose levels — giving you a complete, nearly real-time picture of your levels. CGMs help people understand how their glucose levels respond to different foods, varying physical activity, stress levels, sleep habits, and everyday life, and for many people they can help alleviate some worry about diabetes management. 

Diabetes-Related Depression

Diabetes and depression are often diagnosed side by side, and the symptoms of one can affect the other. Signs of depression include:

     • Fatigue

     • Feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, or isolation

     • Problems falling asleep or staying asleep

     • Sleeping too much

     • Unintended weight loss or weight gain

     • Loss of interest in usual activities

     • Restlessness

     • Feeling slowed down, in speech or movements

If you’ve been experiencing five or more of those feelings for more than two weeks, reach out to your healthcare team right away. (If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.) 

And if any of these feelings sound familiar, it’s important to talk to your doctor. If you don’t have one, Carbon Health can help you find a judgment-free physician you can trust and open up to. 

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Diabetes is hard. And it’s constant. Without the right tools and support, it’s easy to feel alone, defeated or helpless. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With just a little bit of knowledge and a supportive team, one can live a long and fulfilling life. Most importantly, understand that there is no such thing as perfection with this condition. We do our best and celebrate the wins. 

Ignoring your diabetes is a recipe for disaster, but having it take over your life can be even worse. So, focus on simplifying care, taking a middle ground, and setting realistic expectations.

Here are some more tips:

+ Seek out education and support. 

Diabetes can feel overwhelming at times. After being diagnosed with diabetes, some people report feeling:

     • Shame or guilt, as if they "brought this on themselves" (definitely not true!)

     • Stress over being able to manage glucose levels

     • Fear over not "getting it all right" with medication and lifestyle changes 

     • Grief about saying good-bye to "before diabetes" life or habits 

Finding support and resources is key. From attending classes with a Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist to learning how to administer insulin from a nurse, education can help you manage physical symptoms. And talking frankly with your doctor will help them find you the mental health resources you need. 

+ Find a community.

Each person has so much personal responsibility when it comes to managing diabetes — making choices about diet, lifestyle, medication, and more. It can be exhausting! But that burden can be lighter when shared. Here are some tips for building a peer-support community: 

     • Look for a diabetes support group — for instance Steady Health Learning Opportunities

     • Look for other learning opportunities 

     • Connect with compassionate friends

     • Join a social network or an online group for people living with your type of diabetes 

     • Listen to podcasts or watch vlogs that support your mental and physical health.

+ Set time aside each week for some self-care.

Making time for activities that feed your mind and spirit are key to mental health. Self-care activities might include: 

     • A favorite outdoor activity

     • A relaxing bath or spa visit

     • Reading a book 

     • A favorite (or new) creative pursuit or hobby

     • Journaling

     • Participating in physical activity you enjoy

     • Attending a religious service 

Find time for whatever it is that brings you joy. (Get more self-care tips in “How to Manage Stress.”) 

If you’re feeling down and your usual coping techniques aren’t helping you the way they usually do, ask your doctor for help. 

"It’s important to remember that your self-worth is not defined by temporary blood sugars!” says Amanda Ciprich, MS, RD, a dietitian living with type 1 diabetes. “While it may feel defeating when you put in so much time and energy into your management and don’t get the desired result, keep in mind that it’s incredibly difficult to mimic the function of a human organ. Diabetes isn't as simple as ‘count carbs and take your medication.’ No one ever tells you how difficult it is to see blood sugar levels that are out of range and then start automatically blaming yourself and feeling frustrated that you let this happen.... When the mental load of diabetes feels heavy, give yourself space and grace, and remember that just because today is tough, doesn't mean tomorrow will be!”

Carbon Health provides expert diabetes care. If you’re a California resident, learn more about how a CGM device can help you better manage diabetes from the comfort of home. Schedule a free 15-minute eligibility check.

Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.

Aimée José, RN, CDCES

Carbon Health's Aimée José, RN, CDCES, holds two bachelor's degrees, one in nursing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the other in psychology from Scripps College. Her specialty (and passion) is teaching intensive diabetes management, insulin pump therapy, continuous glucose monitoring, and combination therapies. Outside of clinical time, she also works as a clinical research nurse, is a Certified Pump Trainer, is a freelance writer for diabetes publications, and is actively involved in diabetes advocacy groups, support programs, advisory committees, and various diabetes camps. She has also lived with type 1 diabetes since 1983 and understands that ignoring your diabetes is a recipe for disaster, but having it take over your life can be even worse.