Diabetes Burnout: What It Is And How To Cope

If you have diabetes, you may be feeling exhausted. 

And that’s not just because of the symptom of fatigue. 

It may be because of all the responsibilities that come along with having diabetes. 

Read on to find out more about diabetes burnout and what to do about it.

What is diabetes burnout?

There is no standard definition of diabetes burnout. 

Diabetes burnout can result from feeling like diabetes is a full-time job. 

You never really get a break from diabetes.

Diabetes burnout is exhaustion from keeping up with everything that diabetes requires of you. 

This includes things like monitoring your blood glucose levels and going to regular doctor’s appointments. 

Managing type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes is not an easy task.

Diabetes burnout is a state of disillusionment, frustration, and submission to diabetes. 

It’s when you become overwhelmed with the responsibilities involved in having diabetes. 

You really can get tired of it. You may even feel like giving up.

This usually happens after years and years of dealing with diabetes. 

The effort required to count carbs, perform blood sugar checks, exercise, take meds, and go to appointments can feel too much.

You may feel frustrated and worn out. Even more so if you are not getting the results you are looking for.

Stress can trigger diabetes burnout. 

This includes stress in your family or your work that makes your diabetes take place on the back burner. 

Another potential trigger is getting a new diabetes-related health problem. 

This can make you question whether your methods of managing diabetes are even working or worth it. 

You may also feel worn out after years of looking out for your health and giving time and money to this disease.

All this can affect your emotional distress as well as your ability to control diabetes. 

Diabetes burnout is relatively common. 

In fact, a study showed that more than one-third of adults with type 2 diabetes identify burnout as a barrier to following treatment plans.

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Symptoms

It can be challenging to pinpoint the symptoms of diabetes burnout. 

This is because they vary so much from one individual to the next. 

The length, signs, and severity of burnout can be different between individuals. 

They may even be different in one person from one burnout episode to the next. 

Depending on what’s going on with you, your burnout episodes can look a little different each time. 

Patients with type 2 or type 1 diabetes can experience burnout.

There is no standard tool to measure diabetes burnout. 

But the symptoms tend to include the following:

  • Disregard for blood sugar levels
  • Missing doctor appointments
  • Forgetting or avoiding insulin injections
  • Forgetting or avoiding diabetes medications
  • Not sticking to your diabetes meal plan
  • Not exercising as usual
  • Feelings like diabetes is controlling your life
  • Negative feelings
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Hopelessness
  • Overwhelm
  • Sense of defeat
  • Feelings of failure
  • Isolation
  • Feeling like no one understands what you’re going through
  • Pessimistic outlook
  • Changes in sleep
  • Headaches
  • Body aches and pains
  • Chronic illness

Depression does present in a similar fashion to diabetes burnout. 

In fact, between 20 and 30 percent of people with diabetes experience depressive disorders. 

Although symptoms of diabetes burnout and depression overlap, they are not the same thing. 

In diabetes burnout, the symptoms are specific to diabetes. 

With depression, the feelings of sadness, frustration, and hopelessness apply in all areas of your life.

What happens in diabetes burnout?

In diabetes burnout (or diabetes distress), self-destructive behaviors occur. 

Examples of this include the following:

  • Eating foods that are not part of your meal plan, even though you may know their effects on your blood sugar levels
  • Estimating how much insulin you need instead of testing blood sugar levels to inject precise amounts
  • Seeking freedom from the condition of diabetes and the responsibilities that come along with it
  • Worsening of diabetes and increased risk of diabetes-related complications
  • Psychological changes such as stress, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment, shame, guilt, and helplessness

Diabetes burnout can lead to fatigue or even episodes of hypoglycemia

In severe cases, this can lead to coma.

How can you prevent diabetes burnout?

Give up the idea of perfectionism

Don’t try to do things perfectly. It’s simply impossible to be perfect all the time. 

You may have good days and bad days. This is normal. 

There are lots of factors that are unpredictable. 

For example, you may get different blood sugar numbers after eating food you usually eat or a workout you usually do. 

Try rolling with the punches and taking things day by day.

Accept your feelings

Your feelings of frustration, worry, and discouragement are entirely valid. 

Think about what’s behind these feelings. 

Are you feeling stressed? 

Do you feel like you don’t have enough time to deal with all of this? 

Do you feel like you lack a good support system

By evaluating these feelings, you may come to realize where you can make changes towards a solution. 

You may know you need to ask for more help or make a physical activity routine that fits your lifestyle better. 

You may need to have more realistic expectations of yourself.

Break things into small steps

Do one thing each day that helps you to take better care of yourself. 

For example, if you have a big goal of going towards low blood sugar levels, break this into smaller goals. 

You can make a smaller goal of drinking more water so that you don’t drink as many sweet drinks like pop or juice. 

Take things moment by moment, step by step.

Consult your health care team

Have an honest conversation with your healthcare team and certified diabetes educator. 

Let them know that you have been experiencing diabetic burnout. 

They can re-evaluate your plan and help you to make any changes that may be necessary.

7 Tips for coping with diabetes burnout

1) Accept your feelings

It can be tempting to ignore your feelings. 

You may even be getting down on yourself for not following your treatment plans. 

The first thing you’ll want to do is accept that this is a chronic condition and the feelings that come with it. 

Journaling can be a helpful exercise to explore your feelings without the judgments of other people.

2) Be honest with your health care team

You may be nervous about having this conversation with your healthcare professionals. 

Remind yourself that you are not doing anything wrong. 

We all need support sometimes. 

A care plan that was working before may not be working for you anymore. 

Let your healthcare provider know how diabetes burnout is affecting you. 

They can then work with you to find solutions.

3) Connect with others

It may be helpful to speak with people who know just what you’re going through. 

There are support groups that meet in person and support groups online. 

The American Diabetes Association has a discussion board you may want to read through. 

Search social media to find online support groups and movements.

4) Take a break

With the guidance of your diabetes care provider, implement strategies to take some time off. 

For example, you could have one meal that is not part of your regular meal plan. 

You could see about checking your blood sugar levels less frequently for a few days. 

Let someone know you are doing this so that they can keep an eye on you in case you encounter any problems.

5) Disconnect

Insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors seem to always be alerting you to do something.

Under the care of your healthcare provider, disconnect your insulin pump. 

Give yourself manual insulin doses for a couple of days. 

Instead of using your continuous glucose monitor for a few days, use a finger stick meter instead. 

Be aware that this may take some extra planning but may give you a much-needed break.

6) Change up your diet

You can prevent diabetes burnout by changing things up. 

Eat a varied diet. Try new recipes for people with diabetes.

7) Adopt mindfulness practices

Mindfulness exercises can help in the understanding of the emotional and mental health impact of diabetes. 

This can also help in the coping of the emotional and psychological conditions that lead to diabetes burnout.

How to support someone with diabetes burnout

One of the best things you can do for someone with diabetes burnout is to have an open conversation with them about it. 

Connect with them. State your concerns and your desire to help them. 

Let them know that you’ve noticed they’re having a hard time. Ask what you can do to help.

Provide a listening ear. Allow them to express their feelings. Show them empathy. 

Recognize the effort and energy they have been putting forth for diabetes management.

Enjoy activities with them that have nothing to do with diabetes. 

This can help take their mind off their condition. 

This can serve as a reminder that diabetes doesn’t have to prevent them from living their life and enjoying it.

Celebrate their wins with them. 

Burnout can prevent someone with diabetes from acknowledging the hard work they’ve put in. 

Provide some positive reinforcement. 

Praise them for their diabetes self-management. This can give them a confidence boost.

Conclusion

Diabetes burnout is exhaustion from keeping up with everything that diabetes requires of you. 

If you have symptoms of diabetes burnout, speak to your health care provider today. 

Let them know how you have been feeling and that it may be time to change your care plan.

Next Up

diabetic diet

Dealing With Diabetes: 10 Top Tips On How To Cope.

Sources

  1. Abdoli, S; Hessler, D; Vora, A; Smither, B & Stuckey, H. (2019). Experiences of Diabetes Burnout: A Qualitative Study Among People with Type 1 Diabetes. American Journal of Nursing. 119 (12), 22-31. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31764048/
  2. Fiore, V; Marci, M; Poggi, A; Giagulli, VA; Licchelli, B; Iacoviello, M; Guastamacchia, E; De Pergola, G & Triggiani, V. (2015). The association between diabetes and depression: a very disabling condition. Endocrine. 48 (1), 14-24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24927794/
  3. Nelson, LA; Wallston, KA; Kripalani, S; LeStourgeon, LM; Williamson, SE & Mayberry, LS. (2018). Assessing Barriers to Diabetes Medication Adherence using the Information-Motivation-Behavioral Skills Model. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 142 (1), 374-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6083841/
  4. Nicolucci, A; Burns, KK; Holt, RI; Comaschi, M; Hermanns, N; Ishii, H; Kokoszka, A; Pouwer, F; Skovlund, SE; Stuckey, H; Tarkun, I; Vallis, M; Wens, J & Peyrot, M. (2013). Diabetes Attitudes, Wishes and Needs second study (DAWN2): Cross-national benchmarking of diabetes-related psychosocial outcomes for people with diabetes. Diabetic Medicine. 30 (7), 767-77. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dme.12245
Alternative Text

Dr. Corina Kibsey

Dr. Corina is a naturopath in the GTA, working out of various locations of Triangle Physiotherapy. Dr. Corina struggled with digestive health for most of her life, to the point where she couldn’t remember what normal digestion felt like. It wasn’t until she discovered natural treatments for digestive problems that she was able to realize how strong and healthy she could really feel. Dr. Corina is now passionate about bringing this knowledge to others, so that they don’t have to suffer like she did. She wants to help people feel like the best version of themselves.

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