Diabetes Holiday Blues

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The holidays are depressing times for some people. We think everyone else is partying with a loving family, while we don’t have family, or don’t like them, or they are far away. Diabetes doesn’t help.

You probably know better than I do how diabetes affects your holiday experience. Others are letting themselves go: eating what they want, drinking as much as they want. Candies and pies are all around. You might feel the weight of diabetes more at this time, because you can’t let go and celebrate like everyone else. Or maybe you do let go and then beat yourself up over it.

Money worries also bring people down at the holidays. All those presents; all those parties and travel cost money, and people with diabetes tend to have less money to spare.

Holidays or no, people with diabetes are more likely to be depressed than others. In a recent web talk on TuDiabetes, Dr. Sherita Golden gave two major reasons why. Living with diabetes can wear you down, a condition called “diabetes distress” or diabetes burnout. Also, high blood sugars have a direct effect on the brain, which can cause thinking problems and depression. There are other diabetes-depression connections, as I described in this article.

Then add holiday stress and you have a definite problem. So what can you do about it?

Ways over depression
Everyone gets down sometimes. Life is hard, even when it’s good. That’s why antidepressant drugs sold over $9 billion in 2013. Most of these drugs are generic now, so sales in dollars have been going down, while the number of people taking them keeps increasing.

You can take those drugs if they work for you, but there are a lot of other ways you can help yourself.

• Helping others is a very good treatment for depression. A man I know with diabetes had lost a foot to amputation, and was lonely, depressed, and suicidal. He lived near a VA hospital, and his counselor got him to start visiting long-term patients there. The veterans were grateful to see him, and his depression lifted within a week.

Holiday time is a great time to start visiting people who are shut in, because they are super-lonely then. Of course, anything you can do for others is good. Note: Help with something you want to do, not something you are pressured or guilted into. Have-tos aren’t healing.

• Sunshine. A long stretch of cloudy weather can depress some people all by itself. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is common around the holidays when days are short. Get sunlight every chance you get and consider buying and using a light therapy box.

• Exercise. Movement is great for diabetes; it’s also a top treatment for depression. Exercise raises most people’s mood more reliably than any drug.

• Social contact. The more you’re with people you like, the better you are likely to feel. Contact with people you don’t like isn’t as good. Social contact and exercise make a good combination: walk together, play a sport. Maybe you can add helping others to the mix. Imagine shoveling someone’s driveway with him — helping, social contact, and exercise together.

• Better diabetes control. Since high glucose numbers bring you down, getting the numbers down should bring your mood up. Better control will make you feel more confident and reduce your fears of complications. Confidence is good for you and your mood.

Having some fun. I find that doing work I like, such as writing, makes me feel better, but not if I do it all the time. We have to take time for fun — active fun, social fun, helping others fun are all bonuses, but anything that makes you relax and laugh drives depression away. In fact…

• …laughter is an immediate, though short-term, depression cure. Try it. There is no way to feel depressed when you’re laughing. Find something funny to laugh at, or just force yourself to laugh. It’s medicine.

My takeaway is this: Holidays should be times for people to come together, but other times should be too. All the expectations the media builds up about the way holidays should be is a bunch of hype. Ignore it. Do the things that make you feel good, not the things authority figures (including me) tell you to do.

Wishing you happy, healthy holidays!

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