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Moving on from a diabetes diagnosis

Moving on from a diabetes diagnosis

Being told by your doctor that you have diabetes can come as a shock. It might be hard to come to terms with the diagnosis, and what it means for you. Everyone will react to the news differently, and experience different emotions.

Wishing it would just go away is a very understandable response! For some people, however, this manifests as denial – trying to fight against the reality of the situation, perhaps shutting out medical advice and refusing to make necessary behavioural changes. This could cause a delay in getting the treatment or help they need. Others do the opposite, spending a lot of time researching the condition or Googling symptoms.

It’s normal to have concerns about what the future holds. People often worry about what having diabetes means for their health, and whether it will affect their ability to carry on working or function normally day to day. You might be apprehensive about maintaining new behaviours such as changing your diet or taking regular medication.

This could turn into overthinking, catastrophising – imagining the worst case scenario, and having negative thoughts such as “My future looks bleak” or “I won’t be able to live my life the way I want to any more”.

You may well have to make changes, such as stopping eating things you like, or doing certain things you enjoy. This could lead to feeling that you’ve lost your sense of self, or that you no longer have control over your life. The role people play in their relationships sometimes changes, too. Asking for support and prioritising your own needs can be difficult if you’ve always been the one helping others, while someone who’s led a busy life will find it hard saying “no” to commitments.

For some people these changes can bring on a low mood, or feelings of hopelessness. Others can overcompensate by avoiding their usual activities to an excessive extent, perhaps becoming withdrawn as a result.

While you can’t change your diagnosis, there’s no reason you can’t continue to lead a rich and fulfilling life. Focusing too much on your diabetes and constantly thinking about the future could limit your ability to move forward. But by changing the relationship you have with your thoughts, you can find a balance between managing the condition and maintaining your emotional wellbeing.

Identify what’s important – and move towards it.
Focus on the things you can still do, rather than those you can’t. List all the activities and experiences you enjoy that won’t be affected by having diabetes, or which you can do by making an adaption of some kind. Make plans to do some of these things every week (coronavirus restrictions permitting!).

Complete a ‘values check’ by asking yourself these questions, and see what comes up:

  • Who do you want to be in the world?
  • Who do you want to be as a partner, parent, friend, family member or colleague?
  • Who matters most to you – the people who, when you look back at your life, you spent the most time with?
  • If you could live absolutely any kind of life, what would you choose?

Think about what small steps you can take, bearing in mind your situation, to move towards some of the things you’ve singled out as important. What can you do today, over the next few days, and the next few weeks?

Avoid catastrophising about the future.
If your head is full of worries, try this technique to calm your mind, step outside the thoughts you’re having and return your attention to the present.

Sit down, and become aware of your breathing, trying to gradually slow it down. What can you hear right now? What can you see? What can you feel? As you sit there, breathing slowly, go ahead and notice the thoughts you’re having. Recognise that they’re just words and images, showing up in your mind in this moment, about another moment that isn’t yet here – and that’s fine. They’re just thoughts, not facts. Keep breathing slowly, and try to stay connected to the moment you’re in right now.

Have compassion for yourself.
We can often be far more critical of ourselves than we would be of others. If you blame yourself for your situation, ‘beat yourself up’ about not doing everything, or believe you’re burdening people if you ask for help, think about what you’d say to a friend. Would you say the same things you’re saying to yourself, or something different? Would you use the same words? Would you use a different tone – maybe less harsh or kinder? What happens if you talk to yourself like you would that friend?

If you experience depression or anxiety following your diabetes diagnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you manage the feelings you’re experiencing by changing the way you think and behave. Ieso offers online CBT treatment that you can access from home – find out more here.

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