Five Ways to Build Resilience

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Five Ways to Build Resilience

With wintertime here, you may be getting ready to hibernate. Depending on where you live, the winter months can be long, dark and dreary, at least for some. It’s not uncommon to feel stressed or even become depressed at this time of year. In fact, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that usually occurs every year, beginning in late fall. Feeling sad and tired, oversleeping, and losing interest in usual activities are some of the symptoms of SAD.

Wintertime aside, living with a chronic condition such as diabetes can leave you feeling physically and mentally exhausted. There’s so much to do to take care of your diabetes and yourself. Over time, this can be draining and lead to what’s called diabetes burnout. While your diabetes may not go away, there are steps that you can take to build up resilience so that you don’t get burned out or become depressed.

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What is resilience?

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” In short, resilience is the ability to adapt to and cope with life’s setbacks.

Being resilient doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. Your problems don’t go away. Instead, it means that you have the skills and the strength to get through life’s challenges and be better prepared for handling them — and maybe even find some joy when times are hard.

Life challenges include death of a loved one, divorce, natural disasters, loss of a job, money problems, and illness. Narrowing it down a bit, diabetes presents its own challenges, including:

Dr. Marisa Hilliard, PhD, of the Resilience and Diabetes Behavioral Research Lab at Baylor College of Medicine, describes resilient diabetes outcomes on her website as, “engaging in diabetes self-management behaviors, having good diabetes-related quality of life, and aiming for glycemic outcomes close to the targets,” all along while managing diabetes.

How you can rev up your resilience

You may not be able to make your diabetes go away, but there are things that you can do to make managing it easier and less stressful, even during the winter doldrums. Here’s how:

Stay connected.

You might feel isolated because you have diabetes. Maybe you think that no one “gets” you or understands what it’s like to live with this condition. Perhaps your family or friends don’t understand your diabetes or make an effort to support you. Fortunately, you can connect with people who do understand you and what you go through every day. These may include:

  • Your health care team, especially if you have an endocrinologist and/or a diabetes educator.
  • People with diabetes in a group setting whether in person or online.

You might be fortunate to have a spouse, partner, child, friend, or co-worker who either has diabetes or is there to support and help you. If so, reach out to them to let them know what living with diabetes is really like.

It’s also important to have social contact with people, even if you’re an introvert! Being with others through clubs, organizations, volunteer work, or other methods helps you build relationships and that, in turn, helps to build resiliency.

Create a sense of purpose.

Remember that you are much more than your diabetes. Try to do something every day, no matter how small, to help you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Maybe it’s going for a short walk, cleaning out your kitchen cupboards, or calling up a friend that you haven’t talked to in a long time. Try setting small goals for yourself at the start of each day or before you go to bed at night.

Make time to rest and sleep.

Sleep is essential for overall health, and it’s a time for the body to repair and renew. If you are constantly lacking sleep, you won’t feel well or strong physically or mentally. Focus on your “sleep hygiene,” which means forming healthy sleep habits. Tips include:

  • Sticking to a regular schedule of when you go to bed
  • Not eating a large meal or snack right before you go to bed
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine before sleep
  • Getting some physical activity in during the day
  • Keeping your bedroom dark and somewhat cool
  • Turning off your TV, laptop, and smartphone at least an hour before bedtime

Break the negative thinking cycle.

You might believe that you’re a failure or a bad person because your blood sugars are too high or because you polished off a pint of ice cream after dinner. The more you think about these “failures” (and they’re not, by the way), the more you may get worked up and stressed out. To break the cycle, try getting out of your head for a bit — go for a walk, talk to a friend or family member, do some housework, or get immersed in a hobby or good book. Also, taking some slow, deep breaths can calm you and release some of that stress.

It can also help to think what you would tell a friend in the same situation. Would you tell that friend that they were a bad person because of a high blood sugar? Likely not. You would probably show them some compassion. Try showing some compassion to yourself the next time something goes awry with your diabetes.

Know your stress triggers.

If you feel stressed about having and managing diabetes, make a list of what specifically is stressful for you. For example, maybe you struggle with giving yourself insulin, affording your medicines, or understanding what and how much you can eat. Once you’ve pinpointed the stressors, you can start working on a plan to address them. Your plan might look like this:

  • Making an appointment with a diabetes educator to discuss how to best inject insulin
  •  Asking your provider to review your medication plan to make it more affordable
  • Meeting with a dietitian to develop an eating plan that fits your schedule and preferences
  • Planning your meals for the week
  • Scheduling time in your day to do some physical activity

Keep your plan realistic so that it doesn’t add to your stress level!

And if you still feel overwhelmed or aren’t sure where to start, ask your provider for a referral to a mental health professional. You can also contact your health plan for information or visit the American Diabetes Association’s Mental Health Professional Directory Listing.

Want to learn more about managing stress? Read “Stress and Diabetes: Relaxation Techniques,” “Seven Easy Ways to De-Stress and Feel Better Fast,”  and  “Time to Focus on Emotional Health.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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