When you live with a life-altering condition for months, years, or decades with no cure in sight, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. To feel helpless, exhausted, and just plain DONE.
For too many type 1 diabetics, these kinds of feelings lead to diabetic burnout. This black hole of emotions often causes people to give up all forms of diabetes management. For T1Ds, this behavior can quickly turn deadly. It only takes a few hours without insulin for your body to go into DKA and a few more hours without treatment to end up in a life-threatening situation.
If you’ve ever felt like you were spiraling toward diabetic burnout, you’ve probably come across a few articles that describe how to set goals, connect with others, and change your perception of diabetes in order to avoid burnout. While these things can do a lot to keep you in a healthier mindset to tackle the daily struggles of diabetes, they often aren’t enough to pull you back from the brink if you’re already there.
What if the answer to burnout-based renouncing of diabetes management is to take a vacation from diabetes management before you burnout?
Don’t Quit, Take a Break
Have you ever been so sick of your job that you can’t stop thinking about quitting? What happens if you take a vacation instead? You get some time to relax, to focus on other things you enjoy, and you get to come back to work refreshed, energized, and ready to face the challenges that were steamrolling you a week ago.
The concept is the same for diabetes management. Instead of “quitting” diabetes forever, take a mini-vacation. You won’t be able to stop managing the condition altogether, but you can take a step back to get refreshed and reenergized so you can take better care of yourself when you return to diabetic life.
So how do you take a vacation from diabetes without putting yourself in danger of serious complications? The trick is to focus on the parts of diabetes management that are getting you down.
Eat Whatever You Want When You Want
One of the first times I ever broke down about my diabetes was at a graduation party a few months after my diagnosis. I was staring at a full buffet of food. Carb-heavy pasta. Sugary desserts. Junk food. I wanted all of it, but I couldn’t have it.
To this day I am super strict about what I eat. I know my body needs healthier food than the next person’s because it has to make up for all the damage diabetes is doing to it. Not to mention that I need to eat foods with a low GI and carb count correctly to keep my sugars in range. It’s exhausting. And easily the most stressful part of my life with diabetes.
When all that food anxiety driving me to tears, I give myself a mini-vacation.
I throw all notions of healthy, low-carb food to the wind and I eat whatever I feel like. A whole pizza? Sure! Donuts? Yes, please!
While I know these kinds of food choices are doing nothing for my overall health, I know they are doing wonderful things for my mental health. I also know how to carb count and check my blood sugars after I eat. So while I am taking a vacation from the main focus of my diabetes management–my diet–I’m still taking steps to keep my blood sugars from spiking to dangerous levels.
Best of all, after being a glutton for a few days, I remember why I eat healthily. The pain in my stomach, a general feeling of “blah,” and rollercoastering blood sugars are usually enough to motivate me to get back on track and back to eating for better health.
Skip the Gym and Do What Makes Your Soul Happy
Food is my diabetes Achilles heel, but for many, exercising is what brings about feelings of overwhelming anxiety.
If you’re feeling like you’re about to burn your gym clothes and your glucose meter right along with them, it’s time to take an exercise break. So skip the gym and do something that you truly love instead. Maybe that’s going out with friends, playing with your dog, or just watching a good movie. Whatever makes your soul happy.
Expect the decreased activity to affect your blood sugars and be prepared with higher basal rates or correction, but otherwise, let all thoughts of diabetes fall to the back of your mind. You’re allowed to be human for a minute. And humans sometimes get lazy and unmotivated.
Take a week to do what makes you feel human and use the energy that brings to get back into the gym on Monday.
Leave Emotions Out of the Numbers
Sometimes taking a vacation doesn’t mean changing your physical routine, but your mental one.
Judging yourself for every number that shows on your CGM or BG meter can be exhausting. It’s a never-ending onslaught of negative feedback. For every good reading that makes you smile, there are two or three or a hundred that make you cringe. If you find you can be overly hard on yourself about your numbers and you’re struggling with your diabetes management because of it, it’s time to take a vacation from caring.
Set a timeline for yourself and say it aloud: “This week, I don’t care what my numbers look like.” If you have family or friends who like to peek over your shoulder and judge your numbers with the same rigor you do, tell them about your vacation. Ask them to keep their comments to themselves, or better yet, give you a high-five for cutting yourself a little slack for once.
Spend the next week reacting to your numbers with the appropriate corrections and adjustments, but otherwise, treat them like a meaningless symbol. Don’t give in to anxiety about what you messed up or how that reading will affect your health in five years. Instead, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are on vacation and you don’t have to care.
Once you return from your “don’t care” vacation, you might even find that not stressing about your numbers actually helped you take better care of yourself. Take some of the tools you used to push that stress out of your mind and use them to reduce your diabetes performance anxiety in the future.
All Vacations Must End
Of course, the difference between taking a vacation from diabetes management and just plain-old bad diabetes management is all about the time frame.
Setting a time limit for your vacation before you start is key. None of us would return to a grueling job from an amazing vacation if we didn’t have to. Managing your diabetes isn’t fun or glamorous, but it is your job, and it’s an important one. Give yourself a long enough vacation to get reenergized, but not so long that you forget how to manage it or put yourself in danger of long-term complications.
A diabetes vacation may be the answer to avoiding diabetes burnout, but if you’re struggling to step back into real life, it may already be too late. If that’s the case, it’s time to look for some help to get your diabetes management back to where it should be.
And next time you feel those familiar pangs of wanting to throw coffee in your diabetes’ face and tell it you quit, maybe try taking a vacation first.