When the Motivation to Manage Diabetes Sags

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When the Motivation to Manage Diabetes Sags

There’s big news recently — news that might make today’s entry obsolete in another year or so. In fact, it’s the kind of news that might mean this whole blog becomes obsolete in another 5–10 years. The FDA has approved the first artificial pancreas (and you can read all about it in Diane Fennell’s blog entry right here)! It will be the first device that seriously alters how we live with this disease. It will lift a good deal of the minute-to-minute management of blood sugars off our shoulders and automate it. But until the artificial pancreas really takes hold, we will all be stuck managing this whole thing ourselves, just like we always have. And that, after this prolonged introduction, brings me to the focus of today’s entry: how to maintain (and appropriately manage) our motivation to manage diabetes.

Keeping our motivation up isn’t always easy. Diabetes is a never-ending task that can be very unforgiving if we give in to carelessness. And when we do manage to keep ourselves in line, the reward isn’t something exciting — it’s “good general health.” Yes, that’s a wonderful thing, but sometimes it can be tough to put in all this extra work just get a little closer to “normal.”

In addition, diabetes is correlated with a higher rate of depression, a condition with a devastating impact on one’s ability to keep up motivation. Researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint precisely why this correlation exists (and of course, depression can have a number of triggers), but it’s likely that the stress of diabetes management can be a catalyst for the onset of depression. It’s clear that motivation and emotional well-being are worth taking seriously for anyone living with diabetes.

Motivation can (and should) be tracked
We’re generally very good about tracking our blood sugar numbers. We understand that knowing our numbers is perhaps the most important part of living with diabetes. Those numbers give us the raw data we need to make ALL of our daily decisions. And those numbers are concrete — we know the target range we’re shooting for, and we know what needs to happen to correct if a number falls outside of that target range. Sure, sometimes our bodies “misbehave” on us and our usual interventions don’t give the result we’re expecting, but we’re dealing with quantifiable data.

It’s my opinion that we need to track our emotional state, and in particular our feelings toward diabetes, with just as much dedication. We need to treat our ability manage our disease — in other words, our reservoir of motivation — as a commodity, one that can be strengthen or diminished, and one that must be protected.

Tracking our emotional state isn’t simply a matter of naming how we’re feeling in a given moment. Our transitory feelings, which include anger, sadness, happiness, and similar feelings, reflect how we’re responding in the moment. But motivation lives a level down, in the realm of our fundamental emotional state. And checking in on this level takes a little more focus. In my experience as a therapist, as a meditator, and as a Diabetian, it requires a solid 10 minutes of daily contemplative practice. This doesn’t only include meditation — it can be any number of activities. Rather, what’s important is that you give yourself the chance to breath out the surface tension, let go of the surface worries (the small worries, like scheduling conflicts or the way someone phrased something in their last e-mail), and move inward to find the underlying emotional state that is governing all of those peripheral issues. This is what requires care and what must be monitored.

Think of it like the core of your emotional ship. For any Star Trek fans, think of it this way: We’re talking about the warp core here — the generator that runs EVERY OTHER SYSTEM, and without which nothing can function. It needs to be monitored, and if it’s shaky, it needs to be addressed before motivation dies and the door is opened for serious depression.

Keeping our core strong
Monitoring our motivation is the first step. The second step is figuring out what we can do if we discover that our motivation is sagging. The tricky thing about this is that as our motivation sags, and our emotional state sinks, it becomes harder to make ourselves take action because… well, because we lose motivation. This is the maddening circle depression can create for people — a feeling of sadness sets in, and with it hopelessness and apathy. The hopelessness leads to more sadness, which leads to more hopelessness, which leads to more sadness, and so on.

Because of this, it is vitally important for us that we catch falling motivation and sinking emotional core strength early. If we wait until we’ve lost our motivation, getting it back can be very hard. But if we make a habit of checking in with ourselves every day, we will very likely catch ourselves early enough that smaller interventions will work.

The smaller interventions are the simple things — taking a walk, using positive affirmations, identifying and consciously letting go of toxic storylines in our minds, or petting our cat. What all of these small interventions have in common is that we are turning away from the kind of spiraling cycle I outlined above. We are dropping the toxic thoughts and storylines and instead focusing on small pieces of true joy in our lives. I’ve often used the last example (petting the cat), and I gotta say, it works pretty well!

But what if you discover that your emotional core is really struggling? Well, that’s what friends, support groups, therapists, and family are for. If you feel stuck and unable to nudge yourself out of the mud, reach out. We all need to every now and then. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that our emotional cores (and the motivation within them) are every bit as important as our blood sugar numbers. Take care of them.

Wondering how to lower blood sugar if you have Type 2 diabetes? Take a short walk right after your meals, say researchers. Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to learn more.

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