Diabetes can be a life-threatening condition if not managed properly. But what if you find yourself… feeling unmotivated? It’s not like you want to have poor health and all the difficult symptoms that come with it. You might occasionally find yourself putting off testing your blood glucose, or taking a few days or weeks off from the nutrition plan you’ve been following. Maybe you skip a doctor’s appointment and don’t head out for the day with your backpack or purse fully stocked with all the tools and snacks you might need, like you normally do. This sense of apathy is so common among people with diabetes that there’s a special name for it: diabetes burnout.
What Is Diabetes Burnout?
If you were feeling tired, run-down, and unmotivated at work, you could be described as “burned out.” It’s the same for diabetes. After years of counting carbs at every meal, calculating insulin dosages, managing doctor’s appointments and medical bills, and living with the stress of knowing a single mistake could lead to devastating side effects, you might (understandably) feel like chucking your CGM into the nearest body of water and eating whatever the heck you want. Diabetes management is work and burnout happens when you’re exhausted from the never-ending attention it requires.
Nalani Haviland, a physician assistant who works with diabetes patients and has diabetes herself, told The Mighty that one unique aspect of diabetes is that much of the treatment decisions are made by the patient. She described diabetes as similar to a newborn baby or full-time job with no vacation days or weekends — no matter what a person with diabetes does, they always have to be multitasking which can be exhausting.
“The clinician can help guide the person with diabetes (PWD), but ultimately the PWD is forced to make multiple life-altering and life-threatening decisions on a daily basis, and we suffer the consequences of those decisions both immediately and long-term,” Haviland said.
Burnout in Type 1 Diabetes vs. Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetic burnout can happen to people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, your pancreas makes little to no insulin, a hormone required to allow sugar (glucose) to enter your cells from your bloodstream. Within a few hours or days of having no insulin in your system, your blood sugar will get too high, which is fatal if left untreated. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin constantly throughout the day and adjust the dosage depending on factors like the food they eat and their level of exercise. The average age of a type 1 diabetes diagnosis is around 14 years old, meaning many people with type 1 diabetes must live with it for almost their entire lives. The stress, care requirements, and lifelong effects mean that burnout is common in the type 1 community.
Burnout can also happen if you have type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin to properly manage their blood glucose levels, or their bodies resist the effects of the insulin their bodies do make. The condition is typically managed with diet, weight loss, exercise, medication, and/or insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes more commonly appears in adulthood, but children can also develop the condition. Type 2 diabetes typically does not require the same dependence on insulin that type 1 diabetes does, but it still requires constant monitoring and lifestyle changes that can lead to burnout.
Coping With Diabetic Burnout
Although most people with diabetes will likely experience burnout at one point or another, there are ways to get yourself back on track. First, don’t beat yourself up about feeling burned out. As Haviland explained, people with diabetes are constantly blamed and stereotyped when it comes to their health and many also live with depression, anxiety and eating disorders, in addition to disease complications. Managing diabetes can also be unpredictable. So, take comfort in the fact that burnout happens to everyone.
“My best advice is to take it day by day. Let yourself cry. Admit that it’s hard and that it sucks and then ask for help. Make one simple positive change in your care and go from there,” Haviland said. “Most importantly, don’t try to do it on your own. Diabetes is a team sport and is way too big for one person to manage on their own.”
We also asked our Mighty diabetes community for their advice about coping with diabetic burnout. Here are the suggestions they shared with us:
1. Remember: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Diabetes requires constant care and attention, but it’s also a lifelong condition. You don’t want to get so wrapped up in the everyday details that you lose sight of the bigger overall picture of your health. Never neglect your health, but give yourself permission to feel less stressed about the smaller ups and downs.
“Don’t forget that diabetes management is a marathon, not a sprint. Try not to get bogged down with the daily numbers, minute by minute management, but focus on overall trends and patterns,” Jaime C. said.
2. Remind yourself what can happen with poor diabetes control.
“Scared straight” isn’t everyone’s favorite motivational method. But if it works for you, give yourself a refresher about the reality of what happens when diabetes is not effectively managed. Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to anything from kidney damage, eye disease, nerve damage, heart disease, and even death. Diabetes management is often a (literal) pain, but it will help prevent these serious complications from developing down the line.
“I think about all the damage diabetes has done to all my family members from not taking theirs seriously enough. It really helps me keep mine under control and on days when I just don’t feel like counting the carbs,” Michelle Y. said.
3. Take one positive step towards good diabetes management.
Rather than pressuring yourself to be “perfect” and feeling even more burned out, find one small thing you can do to improve your diabetes management. Build these small changes into your routine so you stay healthy but aren’t overwhelmed.
“Don’t beat yourself up over a bad day, week, or even month. It’s just as easy to get back on track as it was to get off track. Simply make one good decision… and do the same thing the next time you are faced with another decision. Soon, you will find yourself making healthy, sustainable, positive choices most of the time!” Jaime C. said.
4. Find something diabetes-related to look forward to.
Maybe it’s a CGM upgrade, a meet-up group of “dia-buddies,” or finding a delicious new snack for treating lows — if there’s something you can look forward to, or some way to change up your routine, you may feel more energized about the day-to-day management.
“I usually get a new meter or hope I’m due for an upgrade on my insulin pump or CGM. A new piece of technology is always refreshing, and these days there seems to always be something new! Like a new phone or computer, it’s fun to upgrade!” Julia C. said.
5. Think back to a time when your diabetes wasn’t well-managed.
In addition to thinking about possible risks and complications of diabetes like we discussed above, consider your own diabetes journey and the challenges you’ve experienced when you were in a rough place. Perhaps you had a scary low episode that can motivate you to do everything you can to avoid that from happening again.
“When I was 16 I was burnt out from dealing with my diabetes since age 2. I stopped taking care of myself and was hospitalized multiple times because of it. When I realized how sick I was making myself or scared me into jumping back in the horse and getting into the swing of self care again. I now just think about how I don’t want to feel that sick again and it really keeps me in track,” Amanda W. said.
6. Remember the things in your life you need to remain healthy for.
If your diabetes is not well-controlled, you’ll have a harder time showing up for the things in your life that matter the most to you — perhaps that’s a job, your partner, your kids, an upcoming trip, or a favorite hobby. If you find that your A1C or blood glucose levels aren’t really motivating you, perhaps the desire to remain healthy for something you do prioritize will do the trick.
“When I’m feeling on the verge of a burnout, I remind myself of my ‘why’…Why I need to take care of myself and not get burned out. I acknowledge that I’m going to have a bad day here or there and that’s OK. I think about my daughter and my husband, who I love more than life itself, and that motivates me to get back on track and to take the best care of myself. I don’t want to miss a minute of this crazy beautiful life we have — so I won’t let diabetes stop me from that!” Jaime C. said.
How to Support Someone With Diabetes Burnout
Loved ones may also be able to notice if you’re going through diabetes burnout. They might realize you’re not managing your health the same way you usually do, or that you seem exhausted and tired of living with diabetes. Haviland noted that when you love someone who is going through a difficult time, you might feel an instinct to try and fix their problems or offer examples of how or why you understand how they feel. However, she said the best thing you can do is just simply be there.
“Try not to judge their choices, but ask if there is anything that you can help… then do it,” Haviland said. “And don’t beat yourself up that you can’t fix it for them.”
For more support and advice about coping with diabetes, check out these stories from our Mighty community:
- How Do I Deal With the Mental Drain of Diabetes?
- 12 Things You’ll Only Understand If You Grew Up With Diabetes
- 7 Celebrities Who Spoke Up About Diabetes Misconceptions