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Diabetes Burnout: 5 Steps to Work Through It

The endless care required to manage diabetes takes an emotional toll on everyone; here are five steps to work through your burnout

When you consider just how demanding managing type 1 and type 2 diabetes is on a daily basis, it would be remarkable if we didn’t encounter a little (or a lot of) diabetes burnout now and then.

Realizing how very normal and even deserved feeling sick and tired of living with diabetes is will likely play a big role in working through it.

What is Diabetes Burnout? 

Burnout (versus depression) is specifically focused on how you feel about diabetes and the endless tasks required to manage it.

When you think about other parts of your life, you still feel like yourself and carry your normal amount of enthusiasm for your day-to-day life. 

And keep in mind that “burnout” doesn’t have to mean you’ve stopped checking your blood sugar or counting your carbs. Instead, it can simply mean you are really sick and tired of managing diabetes, even while you continue to do all those daily tasks.”

*Read more about the difference between burnout vs. depression in these articles on burnout and depression.

5 Steps to Work Through Your Burnout

Instead of resisting the burnout, or feeling like a bad person for feeling it in the first place, think of it as something you will work through. Maybe in a matter of days or maybe a matter of months. There’s no strict timeline. But the only way out is through.

1. Acknowledge your burnout! 

Whether you write it down on a piece of paper or a blog, talk to friends in person or online, or simply say it out loud to yourself and talk about it for 5 minutes while looking in the mirror…just acknowledge it. 

  • “I am Ginger, and I am sick and tired of pricking my finger.”
  • “I am John, and all of these blood sugar rollercoasters are making me depressed.”
  • “I am Amy, and I can’t f*#king stand this blood sugar management game!”
  • “I am Kate, and I hate counting carbs! And taking shots! And treating lows!”
  • “I am Mark, I’ve lived with diabetes for 30 years, and I am exhausted.”

Whatever it is that you’re feeling and thinking about diabetes, let it out. Give it some credit. Validate those feelings by acknowledging them. 

2. Give yourself permission to feel burnt out

This is where you let go of the shame and guilt of not being a perfect diabetic. Honestly, if someone described the demands of diabetes management to you, wouldn’t you expect them to get sick and tired of it sometimes?

How could you not get sick of tired of aiming for that unattainable diabetic perfection? Shouldn’t you be allowed to step back every now and then and purposefully loosen the expectations on your blood sugar management?

Giving yourself permission to feel burnt out is a major step of working through it because resisting it or pretending it isn’t happening just drags it out further. You can’t fix something if you don’t acknowledge it in the first place.

3. Create a realistic plan

Instead of striving to just “get over it” and become the perfect diabetic by Monday morning with a new plan of checking your blood sugar every 3 hours and eating zero carbohydrates…what if you approached your burnout with a more liveable plan?

For example, if you haven’t been checking your blood sugar at all for the last 6 months, then suddenly expecting to check 5 times a day isn’t a very realistic goal.

Instead, think about both a realistic timeline (perhaps 2 months) and a realistic new goal of checking your blood sugar.

Over the course of the next 2 months, I’m going to start checking my blood sugar at least once per day and work my way up to check 4 times per day.”

Set yourself up for success with smaller steps, manageable expectations, and little moments of achievement.

4. Improve your self-talk habits

A big part of developing burnout comes down to how we talk to ourselves and about ourselves during the more challenging days.

When you see a 350 mg/dL on your glucose meter, what is going on in your head?

Are you scolding and shaming yourself for high blood sugar? Are you criticizing yourself for a decision or a mistake you may have made that likely led to the 350 mg/dL? Are you filling your head with things like, “I suck at diabetes!” or “I’m a bad diabetic!” or “This disease is impossible and I hate it!”

By changing the messages you’re feeing yourself, you’re changing not only what you believe about living with diabetes but also what you believe about your ability to face it every day.

Instead, what if those internal messages were something like: “Oops, okay, that didn’t work. I’ll try X, Y, and Z next time I eat lasagna.” or “I am doing the best I can, every single day. Sometimes my best looks great on paper and sometimes it doesn’t.” or “Diabetes management is a non-stop science experiment, and I will not give up.”

What you tell yourself becomes what you believe. Next time you feel the urge to tear yourself apart for imperfect blood sugar or an imperfect decision around food, resist and put something positive in your head instead. This comes down entirely to stopping that old habit of thinking and choosing a new one until that new one becomes your habit.

5. Plan for days of imperfection!

Okay, last but not least: what if you actually give yourself permission to eat the imperfect food (hello, buttercream frosted cupcake) or to have a day when you know you’re going to slack a little bit in terms of aiming for your ideal blood sugar range?

Dr. Polonsky, the go-to diabetes psychologist, talks about the idea of a “diabetes vacation.” This is a safe but purposeful break from trying to meet the top expectations in your diabetes management.

Of course, it’s crucial that stepping back from your diabetes expectations still means you’re doing enough to keep your blood sugars in a safe enough range that you don’t end up in the hospital. 

But it also means letting go a little bit. And perhaps you only need a mini-vacation once a week? To eat that Chinese food or slice of delicious cake without any guilt!

By giving yourself purposeful relief from the demands of diabetes in a safe and thoughtful way, you can prevent burnout from occurring as frequently.

Regardless, you are not alone! And you deserve to feel sick and tired of diabetes sometimes because it is a lot of work!

Here are two resources on managing diabetes burnout and depression:

Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease since 1999, and fibromyalgia since 2014. She is the author of 4 books: Pregnancy with Type 1 Diabetes, Dealing with Diabetes Burnout, Emotional Eating with Diabetes, Your Diabetes Science Experiment. Ginger creates content regularly for Diabetes Strong, Healthline, HealthCentral, DiabetesDaily, EverydayHealth and her YouTube Channel. Her background includes a B.S. in Professional Writing, certifications in cognitive coaching, Ashtanga yoga, and personal training with several records in drug-free powerlifting. She lives in Vermont with two kiddos and two dogs.

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