Living with diabetes isn’t easy. It’s a 24-7 disease that knows how to throw all kinds of curve balls and likes to be unpredictable, and it’s an emotionally taxing thing to deal with day-in and day-out. This can lead to what we call “diabetes burnout.” Burnout isn’t just a passing moment of feeling angry or frustrated. Burnout is a more comprehensive and all-encompassing phenomenon that has the potential to cause real harm if allowed to grow. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you become more resilient.
What IS diabetes burnout?
Diabetes burnout isn’t an official diagnosis — you won’t find it listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the book used by the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing things like depression, anxiety disorder, and so on). But it is a well-known and identified phenomenon among people with diabetes. It is chiefly characterized by feelings of hopelessness and resignation. And that, of course, is what makes it so potentially dangerous.
Strategies for overcoming burnout
If you feel you might be stuck in the midst of diabetes burnout, it’s important to figure out how to climb back out! While it’s not easy, there ARE strategies available to help you deal with burnout and bounce back. Here are a few you might consider:
Take one proactive step.
You might not be able to solve all the issues that have driven you to feeling burnt out (in fact, you almost certainly won’t be able to solve all of them), but as the old saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The same is true for burnout. Try to focus on one thing you can do each day to take care of your diabetes. Don’t aim for suddenly having “perfect control” (as if any of us EVER have completely “perfect” control, anyway), just commit to that one small step. Examples might be checking your blood sugar after each meal consistently, walking for just 20 minutes after dinner, or replacing the bag of cookies in the pantry with a bag of nuts.
Be KIND to yourself and set reasonable expectations.
Let’s face it, there’s no way to live with this disease and never have bad numbers. I’ve managed “tight control” for most of my life, but that doesn’t mean I never hit 200. It means I’ve managed to keep myself in a good range most of the time. It’s very easy for us to have a few bad days, or even a few bad weeks, and let this send us into burnout. But if we can take a step back, allow ourselves to be human and to make mistakes, and remind ourselves that our goal isn’t “perfection,” we’ll be much less likely to fall into that burnout trap.
It is has been shown by both scientific studies and Buddhist monks that focusing all our energy on our own pain, misery, and suffering is a recipe for serious depression (and serious burnout), and that focusing our energy on charitable efforts, advocacy efforts, or other avenues beyond our own self is a recipe for contentment. An example from my own life came fairly recently, when I noticed myself slipping into the edge of burnout territory. Instead of sliding further, I thought about what I might do in the broader diabetes community. I looked around online, and eventually registered for the Philadelphia Tour de Cure, an annual walk-run-ride event put on by the American Diabetes Association to raise money for research toward a cure. I’ll be riding the 63-mile bike route that day!
Diabetes is a tricky thing. It will always have the capacity to frustrate us, irritate us, scare us, and make us mad, but if we know how to work with our feelings we can avoid serious burnout, or at least catch it early and reverse it.
Want to learn more about handling diabetes burnout? Read “How I Fight Diabetes Burnout” and “Extinguishing Diabetes Burnout.”