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’Tis the Gift to Be Simple: Steps for Self-Care

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'Tis the Gift to Be Simple: Steps for Self-Care

As we escort 2021 out and usher in 2022, it can be helpful to reflect back on the things that you’ve accomplished (or not) and ways that you’ve taken care of yourself. If your self-care routine or practices have fallen by the wayside this year, why not start focusing now on getting back on track? Easy to say, not so easy to do. After all, managing diabetes is challenging, overwhelming, and doesn’t go away. It’s a 24/7/365 job that you have, so it’s not surprising that you may get discouraged and even burnt out, especially when you’re juggling your job, family, and finances at the same time. It’s also hard to stay on track when you don’t have support from someone — you might feel very alone, discouraged, or even depressed if you feel like you’re doing it all by yourself. Top it off with anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s no wonder if you’ve fallen off the self-care bandwagon.

You may find it hard to believe, but you can get back on track. And if you feel like you never were on track, well, you can get started. How? Start small and simple. Do what you can, when you can. We’ve asked some diabetes educators to chime in with ideas and suggestions. Not all of them will resonate with you, but the hope is that you’ll find a few actionable “to-dos” that are realistic. Try one a day or even one a week.

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Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, says Kathleen Davis.

Sleep does wonders. Not only does it give you a new perspective on things, it gives you more energy, lowers stress, and makes it easier to manage your blood sugars.

Action item

Get ready for sleep by turning off electronics an hour or so before bedtime and make a point to go to bed at the same time each day (even on your days off!).

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Focus on your feet, say Karen Shidler, RN, MS, CDCES, BC-ADM, and Nicole Park, FNP, CDE, CDTC.

Foot care is a key part of diabetes self-management in order to prevent complications, such as foot ulcers and infections that can raise the risk of amputation.

Action items

Check your feet each morning or before going to bed. Look for cuts, redness, swelling, sores, blisters, or anything that looks different. Moisturize your feet, but not between the toes. And never walk barefoot!

Be prepared for low blood glucose, says Janet Howard Ducsay, RN, CDCES.

The American Diabetes Association considers below 70 mg/dl to be a low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). People who take insulin or diabetes pills called sulfonylureas are at risk for hypoglycemia.

Action items

Keep treatment (such as glucose tablets or gel, juice, or non-chocolate candy) nearby at all times. Make sure your support system has the knowledge and confidence on how to recognize and treat hypoglycemia.

Make time daily for self-care and to do something that brings you joy, say Jen Barr, MPH, RDN, LDN, CDCES, and Jessica Paredes, MS, RDN, CDCES.

Taking time for you may seem impossible, but even a few minutes out of your busy day can do wonders.

Action items

Set an alarm for 30 minutes of quiet time. Savor a cup of coffee or tea, plan your day, or journal, suggests Barr. Use “me” time to work on a hobby, read a book, take a nap, or spend quality time with your family.

Focus on healthy eating, say Emily Eyth, RN, CDCES, Diane Selvaggi, RD, CDCES, Amy Case, NP, CDCES, and Nancy Goslen, RN, CDCES.

Good nutrition helps you feel well, keeps your blood sugars better managed and can help prevent and manage diabetes-related complications, such as heart and kidney disease.

Action items

Fill half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, says Eyth. Plan your eating, advises Selvaggi. Try planning out your meals for a few days or even a week. Eat at least three food groups per meal, encourages Griffin Case. Take it one step further and learn how your blood sugars respond to what you eat and drink, suggests Nancy Goslen, RN, CDCES. For example, check your blood sugar before and two hours after eating, or if you use CGM, make note of your glucose levels post-meals.

Try something new, suggests Jeanine Lore, RN, CDCES.

It’s easy to get in a rut. Why not use this time to do something different?

Action items

Lore has some tips: Try a new food or cooking an old food a new way; try a new activity such as yoga or tai chi, or take a walk on a new trail. Or keep your hands busy with a hobby — knitting or learning to play an instrument, for example.

Turn to gardening. Eating what you grow is healthy and rewarding, says Cristina Noriega, DNP, CDCES.

You might be surprised at the health benefits that gardening offers, such as building strength, reducing stress, boosting self-esteem, and lowering blood pressure.

Action items

You may not be able to plant anything right now, but you can start planning what you’d like to grow once the weather permits. No backyard? No worries. Check out these indoor ideas from Bob Vila.

Use reminders, especially if you forget to take your medication.

Creating a routine, using a medication reminder app, or setting an alert on your cellphone can help.

Action item

Eileen AndLou, CDCES suggests a simple way to remember to take insulin: Put your long-acting insulin next to your toothbrush! Putting your insulin on your bedside table or on your kitchen counter can work, too.

Think about what’s really important to you when it comes to your diabetes, then break it down into day-to-day steps, says Rhonda Lundquist, RN, CDCES.

You might be doing great with blood sugar checks, physical activity, or eating healthfully. No need to fix what isn’t broken. Put your energy and efforts into an area that trips you up.

Action items

If nutrition is your struggle, start with including a vegetable or fruit in two out of three meals a day, or set aside time to exercise for 10 minutes three times a week, advises Lundquist. Whatever your goal is, start with where you’re at.

Consider asking for help or support, say Juanita Weaver-Reiss, MBA, MPH, RD, LD, CDCES, and Lynda Sue McKendree, RN, CDCES.

Turning to your family, friends and your health care team can make a big difference in your diabetes management.

Action items

Share your feelings with your family or a support group — tell them how they can help you, suggests Weaver-Reiss. Include your spouse or support person in your health plan, advises McKendree. And if you don’t have a ready source of support, join an online diabetes support group. Check out the Support Community on the American Diabetes Association’s website.

Be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, do your best to stay positive, and celebrate each choice that you make to manage your diabetes, say Jody Griffith Hagen, MEd, RD, CDCES, Sheila Patterson, RD, LDN, CDCES, Nancy Goslen, RN, CDCES, Susan Williams, RD, CDCES, and Elaine Reynolds, RDN, CDCES.

Often, we are very hard on ourselves and we expect perfection. However, realizing that we all make mistakes and that truly, no one is perfect all the time. Self-compassion can help ease depression and anxiety, and can even foster happiness and optimism.

Action items

You may need to ease into being kind to yourself and staying positive. Pattern suggests starting each morning with a positive affirmation (check out some ideas here). It can help to think about what you might say to a friend or family member in a similar situation. If you eat too many Christmas cookies or forget to take your medications, be nice to yourself, says Williams. Think of a way to get back on track, such as going for a walk. Give yourself some credit for the time and effort that you spend taking care of yourself.

As Kris Kringle sings in the holiday special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town:
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door

You never will get where you’re going
If ya never get up on your feet
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowin’
A fast walking man is hard to beat

Wise words from Santa Claus, indeed. A happy, healthy holiday season to you all!

Want to learn about more steps for self-care? Read “Take Five for Better 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, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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