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Diabetes burnout: What to do when you feel defeated

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By Hali Harrison
Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist
CRMG Diabetes & Endocrinology

What is diabetes burnout?

Living with diabetes is not easy. It is a chronic condition that can often feel overwhelming and exhausting. This can sometimes lead to diabetes burnout, where people with diabetes “give up” and stop treating their condition. Unfortunately, this places them at risk for a myriad of additional health problems, including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

How can you tell if you have diabetes burnout?

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Feeling hopeless is a major sign of diabetes burnout. This hopelessness often leads to other issues, including skipping medications, not checking blood sugars, avoiding healthcare visits, making poor dietary choices and not exercising.

What can contribute to diabetes burnout?

Diabetes burnout is often triggered by stress. External stressors might include the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a difficult or high-stress workplace and busy family schedules. Triggers can also be internal, such as having unrealistic expectations or goals when it comes to managing diabetes. It’s important to note that relapse is normal when working through the changes required for managing diabetes. But after a relapse, the focus needs to be on getting back on track and not “burning out.”

Who can provide help?

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Primary care providers and endocrinologists are available to help people who are struggling to manage their diabetes.

Diabetes educators are also good resources. They often help when someone is first diagnosed with diabetes and can offer support if circumstances change or if someone is having problems managing diabetes. Diabetes educators are also up to date on the latest information and medical recommendations for managing diabetes.

A licensed counselor or psychologist could offer valuable assistance as well. Often people know what they need to do to improve their health. But to get there, they may need assistance working through mental roadblocks.

Another option is to confide in trusted friends and family members.

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Diabetes support groups also allow people to share their struggles with others who are going through a similar experience. Many of these support groups are available online.

How can someone with diabetes burnout get back on track?

The first step is to figure out what caused the burnout. (Sometimes this is obvious. At other times, this may require reflection. Journaling or talking with a trusted friend or family member may help.)

  • The trigger might be a single event, such as the death of a loved one, resulting in grief. Or it might be something that occurs again and again, which can lead to a cycle of healthy and then unhealthy habits.
  • It is also beneficial to recognize feelings that precede burnout. This could include disliking a particular diet or feeling overwhelmed due to a busy season at work.

Another important step is to focus on personal reasons for managing diabetes:

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  • What matters most to you? Are you trying to make it to an important family event, such as a grandchild’s graduation?
  • Would you like to take fewer medications or, possibly, none at all?
  • Do you highly value your independence and want to be healthy enough to continue doing the activities you enjoy?

Personal reasons can be much bigger motivators than “improving your labs” or “making your healthcare provider happy” with how you are doing.

In terms of getting back on track, it is often best to start with one or two relatively simple changes. For example, taking prescribed medications might be easier than making dietary changes. Having early success can be encouraging as you work toward more challenging goals.

Another strategy for getting back on track is to set goals that are “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. An example would be walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes, three days per week over the next month.

A local resource for those struggling with diabetes burnout is CRMG Diabetes & Endocrinology. To make an appointment with one of the clinic’s diabetes educators, please call (307) 996-4770.

Bio: Hali Harrison is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist. She has worked at CRMG Diabetes Education & Endocrinology for the past five years. She enjoys empowering others to reach their individualized health goals.


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