Pauline, 51, shares her experience of recognizing her need to improve her people skills: “I am a nurse with diabetes. At first, since I am a health professional, I was very focused on the medical risks and spent a lot of time worrying about future dangers: ‘Am I going to lose my vision; am I going to get neuropathy?’ My doctor assumed I knew everything and that I could adjust. But even though I knew everything in my head, I still had to emotionally accept and deal with everything. To take control of my diabetes, I had to learn how to communicate and be honest about what I needed and to ask for help. Even though I take care of people, it did not mean that I knew how to take care of me.”
One important point when asking for help and support is to spread your requests out over a variety of people, so that no one person, such as a spouse or adult child, gets burned out. You may need to expand your social network to prevent this. Joining a support group is one way to meet others facing similar challenges who may be able to provide emotional support. Meeting regularly with a psychotherapist can also help with both emotional coping and with building coping and interpersonal relationship skills.
Barbara, 53, a cancer survivor with Type 2 diabetes, shares how working on her people skills improved her relationship with her husband: “I now ask my husband, ‘Do you need a break?’ I don’t take his burnout personally any more. We agreed to bring in someone to help me at least once a week so he can have a break from caregiving. This has reduced a lot of the arguments we have.”
Blowing off emotional steam
Finding ways to empty out the daily emotional stress of a chronic condition is essential. Chronically ill individuals often grapple with anxiety, frustration, or emotional fatigue on a daily basis. Traditional psychotherapy can help, and so can taking part in an expressive art such as writing, dance therapy, art therapy, music therapy, or drama therapy. Any of these can provide a constructive venue for emotional expression and stress release.
Martha, a 60-year-old with Type 2 diabetes who is recovering from a hip replacement, found a creative solution to her feelings of social isolation: “I did not feel comfortable with regular talk therapy support groups. I instead joined a poetry group. I found that many of the feelings I was feeling, others could relate to for different reasons. This helped me know myself as more than a person with diabetes.”
The most important thing to remember is that improving your coping skills can help you to feel more hopeful. Knowing that you can deal with the inevitable stresses in your life is empowering and provides a sense of control. Learning new coping skills can even be a source of enjoyment, as you develop areas of personal strength you didn’t know you had.
Life is a limitless road of discovery. So stay curious, and try to enjoy it along the way.