New to Type 2?
( You’re going to be okay!)
And feeling anxiety, denial, shame, fear and gloom? You’re not alone
Addressing emotions like shame, anxiety and fear is the key to dealing with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis
“I was too embarrassed to tell anyone when I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 16 years ago,” says Louise Payne, a 38-year-old teacher from Lake Macquarie, NSW. “Though I was relieved to finally know why I had been so tired, I worried that people would think I brought this on myself. The doctor didn’t help. He clearly knew little about type 2 and told me to go home and not eat anything with sugar. When I went to the supermarket, I was so distressed because sugar was on almost every food label. I felt completely overwhelmed.”
Learning that you have type 2 diabetes is a life-changing moment that can completely shake up your world. “It is perfectly normal to feel out of your depth and grieve the loss of your previous, more carefree life,” says Helen Edwards, diabetes educator and founder of the website Diabetes Can’t Stop Me (diabetescantstopme.com).
“Managing diabetes can at times be difficult, tiring and stressful. But diagnosis is also the first step towards improving your health and feeling better.”
En route, you may find that you need to have some strategies to be able to handle the following emotions.
People with diabetes are 20 per cent more likely to suffer anxiety, research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, while in Australia it has been found roughly one in six people with diabetes experience anxiety.
This worry triggers your fight or flight response. “The resulting stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, can negatively affect everything from your blood glucose levels (BGLs) to your ability to fight off a cold,” says Associate Professor Dr Craig Hassed, a pioneer for the use of mindfulness and senior lecturer in the Department of General Practice at Monash University.
• Slow down Breathe in and out to the count of three and tell yourself, “I am safe right now.”
• Become more mindful “When you fully engage in the sights, sounds and feelings of every moment, you can’t worry about the past or future,” Dr Hassed explains. People who engage in mindfulness also have healthier BGLs, shows research from Brown University.
• Eat regularly Skipping meals causes a drop in blood glucose that can raise anxiety levels.
• Meditate daily Continue the stillness from meditation into the rest of your day or evening.
• Move your body Exercise helps your body burn off stress hormones. Try walking, yoga, swimming or a team sport.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is particularly beneficial in easing tension and stress, shows research from the University of Missouri. It involves performing short bursts of intense exercise followed by short rests.
Some people deal with their type 2 diagnosis by ignoring their condition and failing to make any positive lifestyle changes. “Unfortunately, in the long term this approach can put you at risk of diabetes complications,” says Edwards.
• Set new healthy routines
Try a gentle approach – for example walking daily instead of going to the gym. Schedule treats like dessert or fast food so you don’t feel deprived.
• View targets as suggestions “Targets for BGLs, HbA1c or
A1c (the average BGL over the past eight to 12 weeks), blood pressure and so on are important,” says Edwards.
“But they can make you feel like you are sitting an exam every day. Think of them as guides rather than ‘musts’.”
“When first diagnosed,
I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I only told close friends and family,” says Payne. “But as I read more about type 2, I realised genetics play a big role and that I was unlucky to get it when I was not much above my average weight. That knowledge helped me to stop caring what other people think.”
• Lower the bar Aim to do your best today rather than be perfect every day.
• Make over your self-talk “Avoid unhelpful thinking styles, such as black and white thinking or catastrophising,” says Dr Hassed. “This will help you keep events in perspective, so they seem less overwhelming.”
• Be kind to yourself Speak to yourself the way you would speak to a friend. “Critical self-talk encourages the release of chemicals that increase inflammation, which can erode health long-term and could worsen diabetes complications,” says Dr Hassed.
• Stop blaming yourself “Research shows many factors contribute to the development of type 2, including genetic predisposition, age and even stress,” Edwards explains.
Chronic worries about your health or complications you could experience may keep you awake at night once you are diagnosed with type 2. “Try to stop thinking about the
‘what ifs’ and remember that just because you fear something, doesn’t mean it will come true,” Edwards advises.
• Take control where you can “Though you can’t prevent diabetes complications, you can reduce their likelihood by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol,” says Edwards. • Seek support from your team “I fear complications in my feet,” says Payne. “I spent six months in a moon boot last year with suspected Charcot foot disease but it turned out to be arthritis. I’ve found the best antidote to that fear is for me to see my podiatrist regularly.”
• Face your fears Write a list of your fears, then beside each one, note strategies to address them. According to Edwards, “This will remind you that you are not at the mercy of your diabetes and you do have some control.”
“Why bother – my future health is doomed anyway,” is a common thought when diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. “Unfortunately, when you often get upset or stressed or despairing, you strengthen the wiring for those emotions in your brain. So the more gloomy you are, the more gloomy you will continue to feel,” Dr Hassed explains.
• Have positive expectations Expect the best from life and
people, and you will zoom in on more and more good news stories every day.
• Celebrate your personal bests Write a list of what you do right most of the time – such as eating a healthy dinner and going for a walk a few times a week. Look back and ahead so you can appreciate how well you do most of the time.
• Keep a daily gratitude journal It can boost optimism while reducing depression and stress, shows research from the University of California.
• Enjoy feel-good activities Watch the sun set, tell a joke or hug someone you love. “The neuroplasticity of the brain means that every time you enjoy something that makes you feel happy, stimulated or uplifted, you strengthen those positive pathways in your brain,” says Dr Hassed. “Feel good more often and the pathways forming your negative brain networks will grow weaker while the pathways for optimism grow stronger.”
“When I feel overwhelmed by all the medications and doctors’ appointments and self-care, I talk to family or close friends,” says Payne. “I also distract myself with activities such as a phone call to a friend, a walk, the movies or a massage, and it makes me feel much better.”
Lower the bar. Aim to do your best today rather than be
perfect every day
Louise is a self-care expert
thanks to her diagnosis.