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Updating Your Coping Skills

by Reji Mathew, PhD

There is hope, however. The skills of self-discipline can be learned, and it’s never too late to start addressing the emotional burdens of diabetes, particularly since diabetes tends to present new challenges — causing new emotional reactions — over time.

Developing new coping skills

Learning to cope with life’s stresses starts in childhood, as children model the responses and behavior of those around them. Some parents and schools go beyond just modeling and offer instruction to children on such skills as recognizing their feelings, expressing them in a constructive manner, calming themselves down, communicating with others, and problem-solving. However, even the best set of coping and interpersonal skills learned in childhood and in subsequent years may not be adequate for dealing with the new stresses presented by developing a chronic disease.

If contemplating the need to manage your diabetes for a lifetime makes you feel anxious, recognizing that you can improve your coping skills or develop new ones can be a source of relief and hope.

The basic idea of a coping strategy is that it should ease stress, provide comfort, or enhance one’s mood in a difficult situation. However, it’s important to be wary of coping mechanisms that provide immediate gratification but have secondary consequences. For example, shopping can provide immediate stress relief, but overuse has secondary consequences for your budget. The key is to look for coping strategies that provide comfort but also have a constructive, lasting impact on the mind and body.

Since lifestyle choices directly affect diabetes control, it is important to develop a holistic plan for managing the condition that includes not just diet and exercise but also ways of coping with stress, particularly since stress can affect blood glucose control. For some people, seeing a mental health-care provider and taking antidepressant or antianxiety medicines may be part of the plan for coping with stress. Practices such as yoga, deep breathing, using humor, journaling, pet therapy, aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, biofeedback, exercise, or meditation may also be useful for coping with chronic stress, regardless of whether a person seeks the services of a mental health-care professional.

Paul, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 16, found some strategies that worked for him: “Breathing and meditation exercises felt a little New-Agey to me at first, but I have noticed I am able to calm myself down with practice when I am feeling stressed out about all the effort that goes into controlling my diabetes.”

For people who need help developing self-discipline, a variety of tools can help. One technique is to post visual or written reminders — in places such as the bathroom mirror or the refrigerator — to check blood glucose or perform other diabetes tasks. Another is to keep a diabetes log that includes a schedule for monitoring and taking medicines. Learning how other people manage their diabetes can also provide practical tips and motivation, so meeting others through support groups or online communities or even reading about other people’s experiences with diabetes in books or magazines can be helpful.

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