Your Diabetes Support System

When you have diabetes, no one knows better than you the important daily requirements that help you stay healthy. At the very least, managing your diabetes involves self-care behaviors such as healthy eating, physical activity, monitoring your blood glucose, and taking your medications. When, despite your best efforts, your diabetes is still less than optimally controlled, you will need effective problem-solving skills to get back on track. Add to that the ongoing effort to stay on top of your diabetes to reduce the risk of blood glucose levels that get either too low or too high and the long-term risks of diabetes complications if blood glucose levels run too high. Healthy, positive coping is yet another element to help you take the best possible care of you. Thinking about your diabetes needs can often be overwhelming; however, keep in mind that you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, research has shown that people who did not have strong social support were 50 percent more likely to die from illness than those who had such support. Individuals who have strong social support generally have better health, live longer, and report a higher sense of well-being. Having a support system can do wonders for your accountability. And when times are tough, having reliable support can help you be more resilient.

Diabetes self-management support

The American Diabetes Association has standards of care for people with diabetes that recognize the importance of ongoing diabetes self-management support when it comes to day-in and day-out self-care. To sustain effective diabetes self-management over time, this support may be behavioral, educational, psychological, or clinical.

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Behavioral

Not only do you have diabetes, but on a day-to-day basis, you also self-manage and problem-solve your care and needs. You know you best. If you have difficulty with an area of your daily care, speak up — let your diabetes care team know.

Educational

Ideally, you received diabetes self-management education when you were diagnosed. However, education should not stop at diagnosis. Because diabetes is with you throughout your lifetime, periodic individualized education is essential to keep you updated, address your changing diabetes care needs, and ensure you have the best tools available to self-manage and make informed choices about your diabetes. While diabetes self-management is necessary and effective, you will need ongoing diabetes self-management support to sustain the level of diabetes commitment.

Psychological

It is no secret that people with a chronic illness such as diabetes have a higher rate of depression. Often in individuals with diabetes, depression results in difficulty coping and following through with the recommended treatment plan. “Diabetes distress” is a term that broadly covers specific worries, fears, and concerns that those with diabetes may face when they struggle with the demands of a progressive chronic illness. Consequently, a mental health provider can be a valuable member of the diabetes care team. Data support the integration of mental and physical health-care to improve your health outcomes. If you are struggling and need help, ask for help.

Clinical

Routine clinical care is part of your diabetes support system. Your diabetes care provider should be up to date on the standards of diabetes medical care and ensure you have access to appropriate members of the diabetes care team (see “Your Diabetes Care Team”).

Personal support

Whether or not you have diabetes, part of life is experiencing ups and downs. It is a good idea to identify your personal support system before you need it. A positive social support system will help decrease stress. Look at the individuals, such as family and friends, who are currently in your life. Make a list to identify those who are positive and supportive of your diabetes self-care behavior. In some cases, their positivity may benefit from learning more about diabetes so they understand how to support your diabetes care needs.

Seek educational materials that might help you and increase your loved ones’ understanding of diabetes. A subscription to a diabetes consumer magazine can offer quality information for family and friends. In addition, the information and timely updates may stimulate questions you can take back to your diabetes care team.

Technology also offers a wealth of information and support — but only when gleaned in a smart way. The last thing you want is erroneous information negatively affecting your self-care. Make sure that the information is coming from a valid source, that it is supported by scientific study, and that it is updated and relatively recent. Beware when a site asks you for money or personal information or reports information that seems too good to be true.

Peer support

Determine what works for you. Some people like group support, while others prefer to be encouraged on a one-to-one basis. You may want to consider activities that broaden your support system. Diabetes self-management support is available through disease-management programs, community health workers, and ongoing diabetes education that can be attained in both group and one-to-one settings. You may want to check with your diabetes care team about whether a diabetes support group is available in your area. Advantages of a support group include:

• meetings on a regular basis, something you can count on routinely;
• attendees who have diabetes, just like you;
• sharing of valuable diabetes information;
• assisting you in learning how others handle diabetes challenges; and
• encouragement when you have diabetes ups and downs.

While face-to-face support groups are the most common, other options include phone support, such as talking or texting, or websites with diabetes forums and social media. Be sure to take the same precautions as you do when seeking information from an electronic device.

You may want to consider volunteering. Data have shown that volunteering, which increases social interaction and helps you build your support system, has both mental and physical health benefits. Giving of yourself and your time can create a sense of fulfillment and decrease your risk for depression. Those who volunteer often enjoy a sense of purpose and fulfillment as well as increased self-confidence. Feelings of appreciation can potentially reduce stress, be calming and improve overall happiness. Finally, one study of more than 6,000 retired persons found that the volunteers among them had less than half the risk of dying compared with non-volunteers. Diabetes organizations are always looking for volunteers. Volunteering can give you the satisfaction of taking action to further the quest to stop diabetes and will bring you into contact with others who share the same goal.

Invest in a system that includes support that makes you feel good about yourself. Show your appreciation to those who are part of your support system, accept their help when needed, keep the lines of communication open, and respect their opinions. If you find any part of your support system is draining or becoming a negative influence, then you may have to distance yourself (and that is OK). It is important to remember that the individuals in your support system should help by reducing your stress, not increasing it. Everyone in your support system should be mindful of your goals and your efforts to achieve them, not minimize them.

Above all, remember the golden rule and treat the members of your support system as you want to be treated.

Want to learn more about creating a diabetes support system? Read “Peer Support, Education, and Mentoring”, “Diabetes Management: It Takes a Team,” and “Information and Support for Caregivers.”

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