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Life with T1D

The Sneaky Signs of Diabetes Burnout and How to Beat It

Everyone has feelings of despair from time to time. Burnout, the state of fatigue and feeling stressed out, is caused by prolonged anxiety and can be physically and mentally exhausting. It’s a normal part of being human. A person can feel frustrated and devoid of optimism, like they’re battling a losing fight with no end in sight. The worst part is that you may be unaware of the symptoms.

The Sneaky Signs of Diabetes Burnout and How to Beat It

We’re living in anxious times. The pandemic left everyone wringing their hands about vaccines, catching COVID-19, or losing someone close to us. Then throw in a long-term disorder like diabetes, and fearful thoughts can weigh you down.

On a good day, chronic illnesses like type 1 diabetes can cause a person to feel overwhelmed by their circumstances. Diabetes burnout (DB), diabetes distress (DD), and depression are medical conditions and side effects of chronic diabetes care.

Everyone has feelings of despair from time to time. Burnout, the state of fatigue and feeling stressed out, is caused by prolonged anxiety and can be physically and mentally exhausting. It’s a normal part of being human. A person can feel frustrated and devoid of optimism, like they’re battling a losing fight with no end in sight. The worst part is that you may be unaware of the symptoms.

We live in a flawed world, but it’s not okay when you can’t pull yourself out of it. Knowing the signs, risks, and treatments can help you beat these debilitating feelings before they escalate into larger monsters.

How to Differentiate Diabetes Distress, Diabetes Burnout and Depression

According to an eClinical Medicine study by the National Institutes of Health, the three conditions are different in severity and can overlap.

Diabetes Distress

The generic term ‘burnout’ is not a clinical illness; diabetes distress and burnout are medical terms and side effects of diabetes management. Dealing with the emotional challenges, ongoing worry and stresses accompanying self-management affects about 40% of individuals with type 1 diabetes. The dreaded diabetes distress (DD), unlike depression, is not a psychiatric disorder but can cover a range of emotions.

Diabetes Depression

Diabetes distress comes and goes but can turn into depression. Despair, feeling hopeless and sorrowful, has a prevalence rate three times higher in people living with T1D, and it overlaps with the more severe condition of diabetes burnout. DB is more serious because an individual might choose to disengage from their diabetes care completely.

Diabetes Burnout

Finally, diabetes burnout is described as mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. The individual is detached, limiting their self-care to the point where it affects their glycemic control and overall health.

Diabetes Distress is Real

The impact and symptoms of DD, DB and depression are not to be ignored and are usually caused by the following:

The diagnosis of diabetes: At any age, this life-altering disease can leave you in a state of depression, distress, and burnout.

The demands of diabetes: Keeping your blood glucose well managed sometimes feels impossible; with many components to consider, it can seem increasingly overwhelming.

The threat of complications: Diabetes complications are dangerous, but worrying about the future or belittling yourself over past mistakes is pointless. All you can do is what you can do. The past is over, and the future hasn’t happened yet; you can only deal with the here and now.

When not treated, DB, DS and depression can lower your immune system, leading to other severe illnesses. When you’re physically and emotionally capped—feeling lost, helpless, or despondent—It’s time to ask for help.

Not only is it okay to ask for help, but it is mandatory. Nobody will know how bad you’re feeling unless you tell them. Reaching out is the first step to getting support.

First, Know the Signs!

You may not even be aware that your anxiety or depression has taken over your daily life. Review the scenarios below, and if you are experiencing one or several symptoms—it may be time to get help.

The Difference Between Stressed and Diabetes Distress

Feeling Stressed:

  • Overextended – doing too much.
  • Overscheduled – too much on your calendar with no end in sight.
  • Loss of energy – You can’t focus and always want to sleep.
  • Increased anxiety – your worry escalates.

Diabetes Distress:

  • Hopelessness - Nothing seems to pull you out of your slump.
  • Disengagement – You’ve lost interest in friendships and family activities and don’t care about your diabetes management.
  • Helplessness – You feel defeated and don’t know where to turn for help.
  • Lack of Motivation - Nothing you do seems to help, so why try?
  • Depression – The world has a gloomy filter; you can’t remember feeling happy or hopeful.

Symptoms of Diabetes Burnout:

  • Missed healthcare appointments.
  • Dismissing blood sugar level warnings.
  • Forgetting or avoiding insulin doses.
  • Eating and sleeping poorly.

Physical Signs of Burnout:

Sometimes, we ignore the mental warnings, and our symptoms evolve into physical ones:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches/intestinal issues
  • Increased fatigue
  • Frequent colds and illnesses
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

If you are experiencing these signs, first know you are not alone—many people understand what you’re going through and want to help. Assistance is available. 

Get Help Now

When you feel apathetic and void of hope, your desire to find support may feel pointless. Remember, “The only constant in life is change.” Take the first step today to make a positive change.

Talk to a healthcare professional.

First and foremost, seek help from a trained physician who can refer you to a therapist or psychologist. The truth is your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Family and friends are great, but sometimes, talking to a stranger can be beneficial in more ways than one. Equally important, they can determine the severity of your symptoms.

Exercise

Physical activity can’t be stated enough. The benefits to the mind are proven. Studies show that fifteen minutes of sunshine can work wonders. Take a walk or a nature hike. Go for a bike ride, try a new hobby, or join a gym. Just get the blood pumping—whatever the activity, you can’t help feeling a little better when you’ve finished.

Meditation

Mindfulness is gaining a lot of ground lately because the health advantages can’t be overlooked. Simply quieting your thoughts briefly while practicing deep breathing feels incredible. The positive effects can be amazing when you are emotionally present and in charge of your thoughts.

Join a Support Group

Knowing you’re not alone and that others have experienced similar feelings validates your situation. People want to help. There are online groups, hotlines, and in-person support groups near you. Don’t give up if you don’t find the right one immediately. Sometimes, even gaining one true friend is worth the effort. Check out JDRF’s TypeOneNation, the ADA’s Diabetes Support Directory, or the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI).

Get an Emotional Support Animal

Did you know that just petting a dog lowers some people’s blood pressure? Emotional support animals provide therapeutic assistance to people with mental disorders. Diabetes Alert Dogs or DADs can be life-saving as they detect dangerous high and low blood sugars in T1Ds. What’s more, these trained and certified furry friends are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and can go almost everywhere their owners go.

Volunteer Your Services

Chances are you have two working arms, legs, and eyes. Volunteering at a local food co-op, homeless shelter, or elderly home is good for the soul. Walk around a children’s hospital or deliver flowers to someone housebound. Helping someone worse off is sometimes the best way out of your misery. Then, you can appreciate what you truly have to be grateful for.

Be Kind to Yourself

We forget how hard life can be and how we are our own harshest critics. Diabetes is a challenging, overwhelming beast! Take care, say affirmations, read an uplifting book, and treat yourself with compassion. Remember that we are only humans entitled to make mistakes. Recommit to the challenge before you with a renewed sense of purpose.

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