Michael J. Fox once said this about living with Parkinson’s disease: “I often say now I don’t have any choice whether or not I have Parkinson’s, but surrounding that non-choice is a million other choices that I can make.”
As someone who lives with Type 1, I argue that you can say the same about living with Type 1. You don’t have a choice whether or not you have Type 1 diabetes, but you can make “a million other choices” of how you will live with it.
My job is to help others with diabetes make the best choices for themselves. As a cognitive behavior therapist and certified diabetes educator, I specialize in treating the emotional issues of coping with diabetes. I help my patients examine their thoughts and actions toward living with diabetes.
The American Association of Diabetes Educators have developed seven key guidelines to help manage diabetes. Called the AADE7 Self-Care Behaviors, they include:
-Healthy Eating – Having diabetes means learning how to count carbohydrates and how the foods you eat affect your blood sugar. A healthy meal plan also includes complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber (beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables), lots of green, leafy vegetables, and limited amounts of heart-healthy fats.
-Being Active – Physical activity can help you keep blood sugar levels normal and manage your diabetes. Being active can also improve your mood and reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety.
-Monitoring – Checking your blood sugar levels regularly gives you information about your diabetes management. Monitoring helps you know when your blood sugar levels are within your target range and helps you to make choices in what you eat and what you do.
-Taking Medication – Obviously, it’s important that you take your insulin, but it’s vitally important that you understand how much to take in certain situations. This comes from careful monitoring of your blood sugar levels and getting to know the cause and effect between your insulin therapy and your blood sugar levels.
-Problem Solving – Everyone encounters problems with their diabetes control. If/When you have a problem, you need to know how to troubleshoot your self-care. This can include analyzing and evaluating your situation and thinking about what was different from usual that could have affected your blood sugar. It also means coming up with solutions to try, as well as looking at what worked and what didn’t. Don’t get bitter, get better.
-Reducing Risks – You can take steps now to lower your risks of developing health problems in the future. Recommendations to reduce your risks and avoid other health problems include: not smoking, seeing you doctor regularly (to check A1C), visiting your eye doctor at least once a year, brushing and flossing daily and seeing your dentist, taking care of your feet, and listening to your body.
-Healthy coping – Living with diabetes and its daily demands for self-care can be stressful and may negatively impact your self-management. Not only can stress increase your blood sugar levels, but it can contribute to you making poor choices. The good news is there are many healthy ways to cope with stress.
I think this last point is vitally important, and I want to share three options for managing the stress of living with diabetes:
-Be kind to yourself. Do the best that you can do. It’s important to feel good about your successes. Give yourself credit when you are successful at managing your blood sugar and don’t be overly critical of yourself if you fall short of a goal.
-Seek support from a network of family and friends who you can talk to when you are upset. Seek opportunities to meet other people with diabetes, such as attending support groups or participating in online forums (such as podcasts or tweet chats), so that you won’t feel isolated and alone. Talk to a psychologist or other mental health provider who provides diabetes-focused therapy if you feel depressed or overwhelmed.
-Choose to have a positive attitude, and cultivate it every day, but also accept when you feel down about diabetes. To have occasional negative thoughts is normal; research has shown that acknowledging those thoughts may help people with diabetes keep their blood sugar levels stable. Acknowledge, but don’t dwell; living with a negative mindset will limit your ability to cope. The way you think about events can influence your mood, thoughts and actions.
Type 1 diabetes is a health challenge that you didn’t choose, but doing what you can to stay healthy is a choice you make each day. It’s a lifetime practice to embrace the best you can.
This text has been edited for length.
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