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Psychological Aspects of Diabetes

Your Feelings and Diabetes

Being diagnosed with diabetes can leave someone feeling shocked; it’s not the best news to receive, nor the easiest to fully understand and it may take a while to absorb this news.

The understanding is something that will come with time.

Probably how the person was feeling prior to getting the diagnosis will have a bearing on how they feel once they have been told. If they were feeling unwell with symptoms, they may feel relief that they know what is causing it, but someone who was well and diabetes was picked up on a routine screening, might not feel the same.

The Diagnosis

Initially there will be lots of practical aspects that will be addressed such as eye screening, blood tests, and appointments with doctors, nurses and dieticians to attend.

This is a busy time with many practical things to do and changes to make. Following on from this it may feel like they are left to get on with it.

Remember the person with diabetes can always contact their doctor or nurse themself, if they need further support and advice.

Feelings after Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a long-term condition can feel a bit like a bereavement, whether expected or not, it still comes as a shock. Some people refer to it as grieving for their health.

There are many emotions that a person can experience following their diagnosis and we will discuss some of them.

  • Guilt, shame and self-blame – are often felt when someone had an awareness of the need to make changes to their lifestyle but didn’t actually act on them.
  • Fear and anxiety – are other emotions that people may feel after diagnosis. This may be due to the steep learning curve of how to deal with the practical management of the condition , and/or more specific concerns around low blood sugars (hypos) or a fear of needles or blood testing.
  • Worries about the future – there may also be additional worries about the potential long-term complications associated with diabetes.

 Food and Diabetes

Food and diabetes are inextricably linked, so the fact that it is common for there to be issues with food and eating for people with diabetes is not surprising.

Some people use food to cope with emotions and being diagnosed with diabetes can cause added concerns at this time.

It is advisable for the person with diabetes to increase their knowledge and understanding about the food groups and how to make healthy choices to increase their health and wellbeing. This can be done by attending group education sessions for people with newly diagnosed diabetes. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you.

You can find more information on diet and nutrition click here

If someone is prone to using food to cope with emotions they may need to examine the foods they have available to themselves, in order that it does not have an additional impact on their diabetes management.

Ideally, the situations where these emotional reactions are triggered could be addressed by a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) therapist, psychologist or counsellor.

They can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

Relationships with your Doctor and Nurse

It is important to develop satisfactory relationships with health professionals such as doctors, nurses and dieticians.

They are there to help the person get the balance right between food, activity and medication

Some people tend to avoid seeing their doctor or nurse and do not attend appointments because they feel previous experiences have not addressed their particular concerns.

Having a good relationship with them will help the individual to feel supported.

To help get the most out of a consultation with the doctor, nurse or dietician it is a good idea to have a think about what they would like to get out of the appointment. If you have a lot of questions to ask it may be useful to write them down, as sometimes when you start talking it is easy to forget what you wanted to ask.

The doctor, nurse or dietitian wants to listen to the person’s questions and concerns, in order that they can offer the best advice.

By working together, the doctor or nurse can share their expertise to work towards benefiting the health of the person with diabetes.

 Family Relationships

Family relationships may have an effect on how the individual feels about diabetes, and each family member may cope with the diagnosis in different ways. Some may find they get over involved, leaving the individual feeling suffocated, whereas others withdraw from finding out about the condition, causing the person with diabetes to feel isolated and lonely.

The person with diabetes is likely to benefit from talking to their family about these reactions and the feelings they provoke, and advise them how they would like to be supported.

To enable the individual to learn to cope with their diabetes, it is essential to get reliable information and to understand the condition. This will leave the individual reassured. It is beneficial for their partner to learn about it too.

Getting Support

Talking to people who can understand and empathise may also be helpful.

The Patient Supporters are there to do just this. The person with diabetes will be matched to someone similar to them and they can talk to this person about living with diabetes. They are not there to give medical advice but they have been through the experience of being diagnosed and the process of coming to terms with it, so can offer a supportive listening ear.

To access this service please telephone 0800 0320 087.

It is a service by people with diabetes for people with diabetes.

 Group Education/Information Sessions

The person with diabetes will be offered to attend group sessions which give the practical information required to make the positive lifestyle changes. These sessions will look at the diet/healthy eating, benefits of exercise and much more.

The other benefit of attending these group sessions is that the person and their family member or friend will meet other people in the same position and, as we have previously discussed, talking about it helps.

 Coping with Diabetes

Different people react to challenges in different ways.

Some people respond by ignoring the problems; avoiding stressful or upsetting tasks, thoughts and feeling, and ultimately denying that they need to proactively manage their diabetes. This is something they may get away with for a short time but with diabetes it can never work as a long-term solution. Other people may ‘boom and bust’; putting every second into managing diabetes as perfectly as possible, but then burning out with the constant demands.

Perhaps the best way to cope with diabetes on a day-to-day basis is first to accept that diabetes will be around forever, and will require daily efforts to keep it managed as best as it can be. Thereafter, to accept that perfection is not possible with diabetes, but the next best thing is to do the best you can to eat healthily, monitor your blood glucose levels, and manage your diabetes treatments.

The diabetes team can support you in doing this. The important thing to remember is that the person does not have to struggle with negative emotions on their own. A visit to the doctor or nurse may be necessary to explain the feelings and negative thoughts being experienced.

There are additional mental health services (both within and external to the diabetes clinic)which can help with this.

For further information about diabetes click on the links below