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Using CBT to manage the impact of diabetes

May 23, 2022

Being diagnosed with diabetes can come as a shock. It might be hard to come to terms with the news, and what it means for you. Everyone will react differently, and experience different feelings and thoughts. People can find it affects them in a number of ways – some physical, and some psychological.

In this blog we share a few ideas and CBT-based techniques that might help if you’re struggling with the impacts of your condition.

You may well have to make some changes, such as cutting out certain foods or activities you used to enjoy. For some people this can lead to low mood, loss of the sense of self, or feelings of hopelessness. While you can’t change your diagnosis, there’s no reason you can’t continue to lead a rich and fulfilling life – and by changing the relationship you have with your thoughts, you can find a balance between managing the condition and maintaining your emotional wellbeing.

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 right, or believe you’re burdening people if you need help, think about what you’d say to a friend. Would you say something different? Would you use the same words? Would you use a kinder tone? What happens to how you feel if you talk to yourself like that?

You might need to set clear boundaries and be assertive with others – for example, saying “no” when you’re under pressure to do something you know will drain your energy, for example.

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

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

Identify what’s important – and move towards it.
Focus on the things you can still do, rather than those you can’t, and if you experience low energy and tiredness prioritise those that are most meaningful to you.

Make a list of all the things that are important to you. Consider people and relationships, work, hobbies, experiences. What do you love? What really matters? What brings you joy, or a sense of achievement? Who do you want to spend your time with?

Which of those can you still do? Is there anything you can continue doing if you make some kind of change? There may be activities that are no longer possible. Think about what you valued most about them. Creativity? A sense of purpose? Relaxation? Is there an alternative activity you can do that would bring you the same benefits?

The final step is to make firm plans for how you’re going to bring each of those things into your life. Think about what small steps you can take, bearing in mind your situation. What can you do today, over the next few days, and the next few weeks?

Engage in healthy behaviours.
It’s important to continue doing things that are beneficial to your health and wellbeing. Spend some time identifying what some of these activities, habits or behaviours are. Choose two small healthy habits that you’re not currently doing, and commit to include them in the week ahead – planning in exactly when and where you’ll do them. Make them small and easy to accomplish to begin with.

Following a routine is a good way to avoid slipping into bad habits, or behaving in ways that are detrimental to your health. Schedule things like medication reminders and daily exercise as appointments in your calendar, and make a list for your weekly shop so you’re not led astray!

Maintaining good sleep hygiene is important. This means doing things like going to bed and getting up at the same time, getting exposure to natural light during the day, and avoiding stimulants such as coffee and nicotine from mid-afternoon.

Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or mindfulness and meditation could help if you experience periods of anxiety or feelings of panic. Popular apps include Headspace, Calm and 10% Happier.

If you’re feeling down, it’s healthy to engage in restorative and meaningful behaviours which give you a sense of pleasure or achievement. These might include staying connected with friends and family, continuing with hobbies that help you unwind, or spending time outdoors in nature.

If you’re experiencing low mood, stress or anxiety as a result of having diabetes, CBT can help you cope better by changing behaviours and your relationship to the thoughts and feelings you have. ieso offers online CBT treatment that you can access from home – find out more here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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