In the United States, more than 30 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes, according to a report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Millions of Americans with type 1 or type 2 diabetes already know the condition can be a lot of work — waking up to test blood sugar levels, taking the appropriate amount of insulin and other medications, and juggling basic tasks like diet and exercise most people take for granted to prevent the chances of serious diabetes-related complications.
There are two main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes: Your body does not produce the hormone insulin. This is a problem because you need insulin to take the sugar (glucose) from the foods you eat and get it from your bloodstream into cells that need it for energy.
- Type 2 diabetes: Your body does not make or use insulin well and though your pancreas tries to make up for this by producing extra insulin, eventually it can’t do enough to maintain healthy glucose levels. You may need to take pills or insulin to help control your glucose levels. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes.
When you are living with diabetes, you learn how to take care of yourself and manage your diabetes to help you feel good. When you’re living with diabetes, this may include paying extra attention to the food choices you make, trying to keep a healthy weight, move more every day, and take your medicine even when you feel good. It’s a lot to do, and of course, everyone’s situation will be different. So check with your doctor for what works best for you.
If you feel overwhelmed, sad or angry when you are living with diabetes, know you’re not alone. It can be a lot to manage, you may experience stigma and that all-too-common question, “Are you allowed to eat that?” Mighty contributor Brianna Henderson explained just how hard it can be to manage a chronic illness like diabetes in her article, “How I Deal With Periods of ‘Diabetes Burnout“:
The last thing on my mind when life gets a bit hectic is my diabetes. It seems I have 100 things going on at once and I’m so tired of diabetes and dealing with it every day. My condition becomes less important, which I know is detrimental to my health but it is very difficult (an understatement) to manage the condition on a good day. Diabetes is a full-time job, so it’s no wonder I’m experiencing an episode of burnout when I’m trying to finish my final year of university and work two jobs, alongside general daily life.
You (and your doctor) know your situation best, but we wanted to offer a few simple tips and reminders that go back to the basics. Know you may have other conditions that make some of these suggestions difficult, and that’s completely valid. Always seek the advice of your physician before making any changes and to find a plan that works for you.
Here are three simple suggestions that may help you manage your diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK):
1. Getting Proper Meals
Making healthy food choices can be an essential step in managing diabetes. With so many food options, it can be difficult to realize which options are the healthy ones. Depending on your insulin plan around meals, make sure you consult with your doctor about what diet and meal times work best for you. These basic recommendations may get you started.
- Focus on foods that are lower in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and salt
- Consider green, non-starchy vegetables for half of your meal, with a quarter for your protein and another quarter for grains or starch
- Don’t forget to add small portions of fruit and dairy, as recommended by your doctor
- Focus on drinking plenty of water
2. Staying Active
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, trying to be physically active daily within your ability level can have tremendous benefits for your well-being, including lowering your blood sugar and blood pressure. Work with your doctor to find an exercise plan that works for you. Here are some general guidelines to get you started.
- For diabetes, most professionals recommend about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week
- Before exercising, make sure you talk to you doctor and plan ahead to manage your insulin and glucose levels to prevent a dangerous drop in your blood sugar while exercising
- Don’t forget to drink plenty of water before, during and after physical activity
- If you struggle with blood flow issues in your feet, make sure you’re wearing comfortable and well-fitting shoes to prevent injury
3. Lowering Stress
We know stress can have a big impact mentally, physically and emotionally. No one’s life is completely stress-free, but we do know stress can increase your blood sugar, especially chronic stress. Find ways to lower your stress where possible, such as using some of these suggestions:
- Build time in your schedule where possible for fun activities that help you connect with what you love, like spending time in nature, doing art or reading a good book
- Try mindfulness activities deep breathing, meditating, taking a walk or listening to music to lower your stress level
- Ask for help if you feel down. A mental health counselor, support group or loved one who will listen to your concerns may help you feel better
Any step that you take toward a healthier lifestyle — physically and emotionally — can help. In many cases, it can even make managing diabetes a little more predictable, even though it won’t fix everything. Always check with your doctor if you have questions or concerns and remember you’re not alone on your diabetes journey.
“Diabetes is a tough condition to contend with, it’s no surprise that most of us have experienced an episode of burnout,” Mighty contributor Henderson wrote. “I’ve experienced many over the last six years and it never gets easier, but you learn to deal with it differently. You learn not to immediately panic, instead you take it slow and attempt the slow ride back to good control.”