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When Diabetes Burnout Knocks on Your Door

By Diane Herbert MSW, LSW

Whether you’re an old pro and have been managing your diabetes for years or if you’re new to the world of tracking, counting, adjusting and managing your blood sugar – burnout can strike anyone at anytime.

Everyone knows the importance of keeping “good” blood sugar control but that isn’t always enough to keep us on track with everything we have to do everyday to stay in good control.  At some point we may just decide that we can’t or don’t want to keep up with our Diabetes Management (DM).

The reality is there’s no single or quick answer to overcoming burnout.  Just like the disease its self, your burnout is unique to you and what helps you move through it depends on your personality, lifestyle and situation.

Here are some things to consider trying if diabetes burnout comes knocking on your door.

Find a Diabetes Community

You’re not alone – nobody experiences diabetes exactly the same way you do, but sharing your frustration and sadness with others who can truly relate helps relieve the pressure and stress of managing diabetes.  Today you can get connected to a D-community in a way that works for you.

  • In-Person – most communities have support groups that meet regularly for people living with diabetes. Check with your local hospital systems and health care provider to find one near you.
  • Online – if your schedule or your personality make in person group meetings difficult, try online chat rooms and blogs. The online world of people sharing their experiences, successes and frustrations concerning life with diabetes has skyrocketed.  Spend some time looking online to find a group, a blog or individual that “speaks” to your life with diabetes.

Whether you choose to be an active or passive participant, being part of the diabetes community can help you get through periods of burnout.

Ask for Help That is Helpful to You

Even your closest loved ones and biggest fans can get under your skin when it comes to DM.  Don’t let that stop you from getting the kind of help that would help – even if it’s only for a week to get you through a rough period.

What’s your most dreaded task related to your DM? Counting carbs, maintaining the supplies, dealing with insurance, site changes?  Whatever it is, consider asking someone close to you to give you either a permanent or temporary break from that task.

Being able to take a partial diabetes “vacation” with out the guilt and ramifications of neglecting important tasks can go a long way to help you through burnout.  DM is a 24/7/365 responsibility, whether it’s raising children, managing the house or getting through school – we don’t expect people to bare the sole brunt of these important responsibilities and you shouldn’t expect yourself not to need help with DM.

Get Moving

This isn’t where I’m going to bang the drum about spending 6 days a week in the gym only to be disappointed when you don’t make it.  Instead, I’m talking about the science that lets us know that taking 15-30 minutes to walk, swim, dance, kayak, ride a bike, do yoga…relieves stress and helps us feel more optimistic and empowered. Doing these things in the fresh air and sunshine- all the better!

Be Gentle and Realistic with Yourself

Good DM is not perfect DM. Sometimes our internal pressure to get it right all of the time is at the root of our burnout.  Because it is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve perfect blood sugar control, striving for this sets us up to experience failure.  As humans we want to avoid things that we perceive we don’t do well – this can become true of DM as well.

Find a diabetes healthcare provider/educator that will establish healthy, realistic DM goals and plans with you.  This plan is designed to give you a structure to work from and some targets to aim for – with out them we’re likely to feel even more all over the road! See your plan as a roadmap to diabetes care and not a scorecard of success or failure.  What we tell ourselves when we get a high or low blood sugar reading greatly affects how we feel about taking care of our diabetes.

Seek Professional Help

Your burnout may have an accomplice – depression. Depression is a reality for approximately 19 million Americans with and without diabetes. Whether depression is the cause or the result of your diabetes burnout – leaving it untreated greatly increases the likelihood that your burnout will persist or progress.

There have been many advances in depression treatment and finding a treatment plan that works for you is possible.  Today there are treatment options that include talk therapy, medication and/or homeopathic and holistic therapies. Unfortunately the treatment of depression may take some time and trial and error to find what works best for you, not what you want right now, but many people experience great relief from their symptoms of burnout once their depression is being properly treated.

Yes we know we know, it’s not cancer it could be worse, now that there’s the pump it’s all so easy, blah, blah, blah – living and thriving with diabetes is constant hard work! Don’t beat yourself up when you experience burnout but do take steps to help yourself get through it.

Diane Herbert, MSW, LSW, a licensed medical social worker who has worked in the Endocrinology departments of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr Hospital.  She is working towards her CDE certification by completing a mentorship at Integated Diabetes Services.