Skills for Living Well With Diabetes

Can you have a good life with diabetes? Depends on how you handle it. I talked with some people who manage diabetes well and learned some of their attitudes and skills.

Jim Snell has lived with Type 2 diabetes for 30 years. He often reads and comments wisely on He had a tough road after diagnosis with high sugars and complications, but he kept learning and finding new approaches. Now he’s doing well, and he gave some of his strategies:


Be patient and persevere. “A steady long view is absolutely necessary,” says Jim. Things will go wrong sometimes and you won’t know why. Things that worked before seem to stop working. Professionals and friends who are supposed to help you don’t always come through. You have to keep going and not let frustration stop you.

Get organized. Have your equipment and medications where you can easily get them. Have a regular written schedule for eating, exercising, and medications and stick to it until it needs changing. Make sure you have the food you want in the house instead of having to shop desperately at the last minute.

Keep records of glucose levels and perhaps other things like blood pressure and food intake. They have apps for this now. The records help you and your doctor understand what is going on with you. If you’re a chronically disorganized person — what are you looking at me for? — you might want to work with someone on that. Here’s a website that looks helpful.

Be willing to research and learn about diabetes. New treatments and new management ideas come along all the time. You don’t have to keep on top of all the news, but if there’s something you want to improve, learn how to find out online or from professionals. Because things are changing so fast, your doctor can’t know everything.

Keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to try new things, whether a new food, a new drug, a new herb, a different form of exercise, or anything else. Maybe a continuous glucose monitor or a nutritional supplement you read about might help. Remember, diabetes doesn’t stop your life, and it isn’t a one-time thing. You will change, and your relationship to diabetes should change too. You can grow. You can learn and improve.

Let go of perfectionism. Trying to be perfect with diabetes is a sure loser. As psychologists Diana M. Naranjo, PhD, and Korey K. Hood, PhD, wrote here, “The problem with aiming for perfection is that so many things go into achieving optimal control, and you can’t control all of them… When you set out to have perfect blood glucose levels or that perfect A1C level, you set yourself up for feeling like a failure.”

Emily Coles, who has lived with Type 1 since age three, works hard for good control but says, “I’m not trying to get perfect numbers. Perfection is unattainable; improvement is attainable.”

Build self-confidence. Self-confidence enables you to try new things — “I can do this.” It helps you speak up for what you want and need with doctors, family, or others in your life. It helps you get over rough patches without giving up.

Doctors Naranjo and Hood advise, “Stop black-and-white thinking. Feelings of guilt and the subsequent blame you assign are not helpful; they can lead to feelings of resentment or wanting to give up.”

You can study a psychological program for building self-confidence (which they call “self-efficacy”) here.

Build a team. Jim Snell says, “No single doctor, no matter how good, can cover all aspects of this disease.” You might benefit from a diabetes educator or a nutritionist. You definitely need the help of the people you live with and love. Support groups are great sources of help and information. Remember, a support group can be one person. You might ask about a peer mentor program.

Keep your balance. If your whole life becomes working on diabetes, you will certainly burn out. Why bother, if there’s no fun or reward? As Emily Coles says, “Other things — friends, job, relationships — have to go on the priority list.” You have to make time for pleasure, for love, and for things that have meaning for you. Maybe you want to help others. Maybe you want to create. Maybe you want to make the world a better place. Diabetes leaves room for these, if you prioritize them.

This list isn’t complete. I only stopped because I ran out of room. What skills and attitudes help you manage your diabetes and live your best possible life? It’s worth thinking about.