Understanding Diabetes Depression and Emotional Distress

Shelly Young, LPC Health Guide
  • Diabetes and its challenges can trigger negative emotions leading to inner distress. It can overwhelm anyone. Those with diabetes are especially prone to depression, so dealing with that on top of other human emotions such as anger, anxiety, irritability, and other feelings, can become a significant burden in life. Managing negative emotions is important not only for dealing with the personal distress involved, but also because of their potentially negative impact on your relationships with other human beings.
    Emotional distress and being overwhelmed can often trigger negative behaviors that are hurtful to others. We usually describe this situation as "taking it out on others." Mindfulness meditation is a tool for working with negative emotions and helping to prevent the acting out of behaviors that we later regret. Some of these behaviors may include snapping, slighting others, yelling, or even violent aggression. 

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    Suppose you are feeling extreme anger because you've just been cut off by someone on the road and you came close to having an accident. Your cell phone rings and it's your daughter asking you a necessary and important question. You are so overcome by the anger that you scream at her inappropriately. Your daughter is shocked and hurt, and then hangs up.

    With mindfulness practice, a hurtful situation like this can be avoided. Becoming conscious and accepting of the mind-body components of the anger, as it arises, helps to lighten the weight of the angry feeling, allowing it to dissipate and lose its power, quickly. This way of handling negative emotions allows you to be completely human by having a full experience of the anger without being controlled by it. Experiencing emotions without being controlled by them represents great freedom and eliminates the regret of inappropriate actions.
    To form this kind of mindful relationship with emotional reactions, it's important to get very clear about your internal experience. For mindfulness skills to take over naturally in your life, it is necessary to develop extraordinary states of concentration that allow for the examination of your inner experience at a microscopic level.

    So what does one notice when the microscope of awareness is placed inward on a negative emotional reaction? One sensory experience you may notice is your verbal internal dialog. For example, your reaction of anger may involve self talk, "He's a jerk for cutting me off." Another sensory experience you may notice is a mental fantasy of punching him out. Another sensory experience you may notice is a body sensation, such as heat, that you associate with the emotion of anger. Any negative emotional reaction will consist of one or more of the sensory experiences that I described.

    If you can learn to bring extraordinary attentiveness and acceptance to these sensory experiences, then you won't be trapped by them. You will have an extremely useful tool at hand and a life that is free from emotional slavery, no matter how intense the emotional reaction might be.


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    My preferred approach to mindfulness when I teach others is the Basic Mindfulness method in which we use labels. Several research studies have demonstrated that mindfulness methods involving "naming" or "labeling" have a calming effect on emotions. In 2007 at UCLA, researchers took PET scans of the brains of subjects who were engaged in mindful labeling and found that the emotional center of the brain was calmed, while the rational, executive center of the brain was activated (http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/abstract/69/6/560). Other studies have demonstrated similar results.
    Here is a meditation that you can try practicing daily. It will allow you to get familiar with the specifics of your emotional reactions and begin to train yourself to be with them in a more peaceful way:
    Sit down and settle into a posture that is upright. Place some attention in your head, between your ears, where you would usually hear your internal self-talk. Put some awareness in your body, noticing the sensations, and put some awareness on your closed-eyed mental screen, in front or behind the eyes. As you sit still, if you become aware of verbal dialogue, say to yourself, "talk." If you become aware of any kind of body sensations say "body," and if you become aware of any mental pictures, say "image." If you become aware of more than one at the same time, pick one to label. It doesn't matter which. Use a very accepting internal voice and be open to any experience that arises. If you feel exceptionally agitated use spoken labels, maintaining the gentle voice. By doing this, you are labeling the aspects of yourself that will be involved in any emotional reaction and you are beginning to retrain the brain. With practice, the skill will become natural in your life.
    Managing emotions mindfully is a great way to go through life and serves as an effective prevention strategy to avoid alienating others. If you are interested in the labeling method you can learn more about it at www.basicmindfulness.org or www.MindfulnessNow.com .



Published On: February 18, 2010