Diabetes and Your Emotions

Dr. Fran Cogen Health Pro
  • It's common to have feelings of anger and frustration in relationship to your diagnosis of diabetes. Why should you not feel this way? A diagnosis of diabetes (or any chronic illness for that matter) is life-altering and reflects the way you feel about yourself and how others feel about you (particularly parents, family members, and friends). First, let's discuss how people feel after they have been given very bad news (such as job loss, a death in the family, or a new diagnosis of a serious illness). Anger is usually the first response (why me, why my family, why my child?). Shortly or concurrently, the next response is denial. Families may think that the doctor must be wrong, this could not be happening to me, I feel perfectly fine. People then start the process of bargaining (such as if I just don't eat anything with sugar in it, I will be fine, I just have a mild case, maybe it will go away). After tackling these emotions, which are not always linear and do not necessarily follow one another, acceptance and resolution of the bad news occurs. This may happen after many months or weeks and may be facilitated by a very good listener, family, counselor or a supportive healthcare team. This is the time when families and the person affected with the illness begin to truly realize what treatments are available, what to expect in the future; and in the case of diabetes, how best to live a long, healthy, and productive life.

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    This process may take a very long time and is often stressful for the affected person, families, and healthcare team. An effective diabetes team will be considerate of everyone's feelings and be aware of the differing stages of emotions. It is extremely understandable that people may feel anger and frustration with a new diagnosis. Diabetes is a 24-hour, 7-day/week, 365 days/year disease. It is hard to forget about and has to be considered every time you eat. How one copes and deals with the process is important in the acceptance of diabetes and how one ultimately thrives.


    Let's assume you have accepted the diagnosis and are ready to live your daily life, participate in school activities and athletics, and have a great social life. You still have to check your blood sugars, give insulin, count carbohydrates, and plan ahead. I think that planning ahead is the toughest part for my teens and their families. It is more fun and flexible to be spontaneous. At present there is no cure for diabetes (although lots of smart people are dedicating their lives to find a cure, so one may come during your lifetime). Until there is a cure, you must take care of yourself as best as possible so that you are ready! Taking the best care of yourself is the best way to stay healthy!


    How does diabetes cause different emotions? Blood sugars matter: if you are very high or low you will feel differently. Most teens know that low blood sugars can potentially cause shakiness, extreme hunger, irritability, sleepiness, change in usual behavior, passing out, seizures, or loss of consciousness (that's why you need to check blood sugars if you feel weird). How do you feel when you are high? Many people feel different emotions. Some teens feel extremely irritable, can't concentrate, and can become depressed. In fact, research shows that having high blood sugars for long periods of time is associated with depression (very depressing). In addition, with frequent high blood sugars you have to urinate a lot, thus interrupting classroom and social activities; not to mention the possibility of the development of those pesky ketones. In summary, high and low blood sugars DO affect your emotions. You have to check your blood sugars frequently to see if your foul mood is due to blood sugar issues or an annoying friend or parent.


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    Another factor that may cause mood swings is the variability of blood sugars (glucose variability). Teens often feel low when their blood sugar drops from 300 to 100 very quickly. One goal of diabetes management is not only to try to avoid extreme high or low blood sugars, but also to avoid major fluctuations of blood sugars (less peaks and valleys). Basal/bolus insulin therapy (For more information see: To Pump or Not to Pump - Part I and Part II) help decrease glucose variability and hypoglycemia. Of course, puberty and raging hormones also play a major role in emotional changeability (very normal), so this is another reason to keep checking those blood sugars.


    In summary, emotions concerning and directly caused by diabetes are extremely common for all children, teens, and adults. The key to minimizing emotional stress secondary to glucose highs or lows is to check blood sugars frequently and administer treatment accordingly (glucose or insulin) and to seek professional support if you feel sad, mad, or frustrated about living with diabetes. Remember: the diabetes team consists of many members, including staff specially trained to help you cope with diabetes who can offer useful strategies for tough situations. We are there to help: just ask for it!

Published On: July 16, 2008