By Mary Scanlon

Nearly 30 million American children and adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. 95% of Americans with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, which means that their bodies don’t use insulin properly. 5% have Type 1, which means their bodies don’t produce insulin at all. With both types, an insulin shortage means that blood sugar can’t enter cells to be used for energy. Instead, sugar accumulates in the blood. The effects of high glucose can include heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, difficulty with circulation and wound healing which can end up in lower-body amputations. Research, as reported in the Monitor on Psychology, shows that a quarter of people with diabetes experience depression at some point in their lifetime.When people have both diabetes and depression they have greater variability on blood sugar control as well as greater severity in complications.

Diabetes can be a difficult diagnosis to accept. Newly diagnosed individuals sometimes have trouble accepting the diagnosis. This is true, especially if they feel physically healthy but have yet to experience many symptoms of the disease.

The list of daily tasks required by diabetes can seem like a lot to handle. Remembering to monitor blood sugars, take medication, give oneself injections and learning what to do when blood sugars are particularly high or low can feel isolating, scary and overwhelming. The disease generally requires some behavior changes to manage it well. If you or a loved one have diabetes, it’s important to remember that you are not alone, and there is help – whether from other people with diabetes or professionals, such as psychologists.

Here are some important tips to help:

1. Get the facts. Learn about diabetes in order to to make informed decisions. Prior to a visit with a physician or other health care provider, make a list of questions or concerns to ask and talk about.

2. Talk to your doctor about managing your diet. Many hospitals offer special programs to help individuals with diabetes understand dietary requirements. As a nurse ,as well as a psychologist, I regularly see patients struggling to understand what they are supposed to eat. Many have misconceptions and as a result just give up on even trying to manage their intake. Consulting with a registered dietician can also be very helpful.

3. Talk to your doctor about an exercise regime. Exercise can significantly help in control of blood sugar, management of depression, anxiety and overall health.

4. Accept the feelings. Studies show that people who acknowledge negative feelings about the diagnosis are better at caring for themselves and keeping glucose levels stable. Avoiding negative thoughts and feelings about diabetes or pretending they do not exist, can bring on increased stress. Instead, talk to friends and family about your concerns and problem solve healthy ways you can cope together.

5. Maintain a balanced perspective. Don’t allow diabetes to become the main focus of your life. While you may need to make some lifestyle changes, the disease doesn’t have to define you as a person. It is important to continue to do the things in life you enjoy, in order to live well with the disease.

6. Be realistic. Rules that are too rigid are more likely to be broken. Set small goals that are easily attainable to help change behaviors such as eating and activity level one step at a time.

5. Develop a strong support network. Studies show that people are more likely to follow health regimens when they have a strong support network. Research specific to diabetes patients found those who have support from family and friends have healthier blood sugar levels during times of high stress.

Psychologists can help people change their behaviors to gradually improve eating habits, activity levels and overall outlook. They can help people learn effective strategies to ensure they regularly test blood glucose, take medications and complete other diabetes self-management activities. By including a psychologist on their health care team, people with diabetes can learn to better manage their emotions, stress and live well with the disease.

To learn more about mind/body health, visit and follow on Twitter at @APAHelpCenter.


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