When you think about diabetes, you think about its effects on your body — things that happen to your heart, your veins, your kidneys, your nerves. But diabetes doesn’t just affect your body. It affects your mind and your emotions, too. Some of these effects are physical — over time, high blood sugar and low energy can degrade structures of the brain. And some of these effects are byproducts of living with a chronic condition. Both causes are equally “real,” and both physical and emotional challenges that lead to mental health struggles are important aspects of the disease that can require treatment, just like diabetes itself. Let’s take a look at how diabetes can affect your mental health:
People with diabetes are more than twice as likely as someone without diabetes to have depression. And, unfortunately, it’s easy to get into a bad cycle in which depression takes away from your ability to manage your diabetes, and then when your diabetes gets worse, you get more depressed. There’s a good chance you won’t be able to break this cycle alone. The good news is, treatments for depression are often successful. A good first step is to talk to your primary care doctor (and if you have diabetes, you probably know your doctor pretty well!). He or she will be able to recommend depression treatment or connect you with specialists who can help.
It’s easy to think of anxiety as the opposite of depression, but unfortunately, they often go hand in hand. And if you have diabetes, you’re 20 percent more likely to experience an anxiety disorder at some point in your life. There’s even a name for it: Diabetes Distress. Actually, Diabetes Distress is a special kind of anxiety in which you can’t shake the fear that something awful could happen to you because of diabetes. Unlike depression, most studies show that self-care strategies work as well as, or even better than medications to treat anxiety, including diabetes distress. Here are anxiety-busting strategies from the Centers for Disease Control:
- Getting active: even a quick walk can be calming, and the effect can last for hours.
- Doing some relaxation exercises, like meditation or yoga.
- Calling or texting a friend who understands you (not someone who is causing you stress!).
- Grabbing some “you” time. Take a break from whatever you’re doing. Go outside, read something fun—whatever helps you recharge.
- Limiting alcohol and caffeine, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep.
As your energy goes up and down, so does your mood. The mental/emotional symptoms of low blood sugar can include confusion, irritability, personality changes, anger and more. Of course, the first line of defense against diabetes mood swings is control over the condition, itself. If your blood sugar isn’t swinging, your mood may not swing as much, either! Beyond that, consider helping the people you care about understand why you may have mood swings — it’s not their fault, it’s nothing personal, and once you get your blood sugar back in order, you’ll be yourself again! Often, if people understand the source of your mood swings, they can help you get what you need rather than being put off by your moods.
The fact is that depression, anxiety, and emotional instability are all more likely with diabetes. But again, here’s the most important part: These mental health problems are more tied to diabetes symptoms than they are to being diagnosed with the disease, itself. So if you can learn to take care of yourself if ways that decrease diabetes symptoms, there’s a good chance you can improve your mental health, as well.
The Centers for Disease Control sums it up this way: “Untreated mental health issues can make diabetes worse, and problems with diabetes can make mental health issues worse. But fortunately if one gets better, the other tends to get better, too.”