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Emotional Self-Care To Manage Blood Sugar, Diabetes And Stress

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Diabetics often blame themselves for their 'bad' blood sugar levels. This leads to negative emotions such as self blaming or feeling depressed that further worsen diabetes. The key is in accepting that many contributing factors to diabetes are completely outside your control. High or low blood sugar is not 'bad' - just 'undesirable'. You can manage your diabetes - if you can stop worrying about it!

When I was growing up, I was taught that if my blood sugar was too high or too low, I was at fault or bad. I remember hiding my blood sugar results from my parents. Back then, there were no blood glucose (BG) monitors – just urine testing kits.

I would go into the bathroom and pee on a strip and wait 30 seconds until the strip changed colors. If I recall correctly, blue was in range and brown was very high.

I can not tell you how many times the strip turned brown. It was a lot. I can, however, tell you how many times I told my mother or father. I can count them on one hand; in fact, the correct answer was once.

I did not want to be told I was bad. It was hard enough knowing that I had messed up and was a bad boy. While growing up, I went around blaming myself for every high and every low. This was poor emotional management. In fact, that negative thinking sent me on an emotional roller coaster.

‘How We Think’ – Impacts Our Diabetes Management

When I was young, I blamed myself over and over again. I spent many countless hours not paying attention to my blood sugar. I was in a vicious cycle that paralyzed me from taking care of my diabetes, which was compounded by the glucose release, due to my depressive state of mind.

As I got older, I started to take charge of my diabetes and realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could not control every factor.

How we think defines how we feel. How we feel – impacts our blood sugars. For example, being sad releases cortisol – a hormone that causes the release of glucose in the blood stream. We can only control a few of the many factors that affect blood glucose (BG) levels.

Moving In The Right Direction

Shortly after college, I came to the conclusion that I still believe in and, as a professional diabetes focused psychotherapist and certified diabetes educator, recommend to my clients. The conclusion is that there is no such thing as ‘good and bad blood sugar’, only ‘undesirable or desirable’.

I know some of you are going, “Wait! Hold on for a darn minute here! Isn’t a blood sugar reading of 250 mg/dL bad”? Well, I am glad you asked. No, it is not – and let me explain.

The goal is to keep blood sugar in range. I think most of you will agree on that point, but there are several other truths about BG that also need to be taken into consideration.

After enough psychotherapy and life experience, I realized my negative self-blaming was keeping me depressed, my blood sugar high, and was a waste of my time.

Several Truths About Blood Glucose

From time to time, a person with a healthy pancreas may exercise too long and hard, causing their blood sugar to drop below 70 mg/dL. And on the other end of the spectrum a person may eat or drink lots of fast-acting carbs in a short span, causing blood sugars to rise above 180 mg/dL for a short period of time.

However, there are many advantages a non-diabetic has that keep their blood sugar in tight control, which are not present in people with type 1 or may only be partly working in Type 2 diabetes.

Natural insulin has 2 peaks whereas man-made insulin only has 1 peak. The first of the 2 peaks reduces the initial impact of the carbohydrates and peaks in 1-2 minutes. The fastest man-made insulin peak is equivalent to the second peak and happens 1-2 hours after injection.

That makes good management an uphill battle. People with Type 1 diabetes are ill equipped to handle carbohydrate intake without that initial burst of insulin produced by people without diabetes.

Man-made insulin works differently than natural insulin, it is one of many things working against ideal BG control. How man-made insulin works is out of the control of the person with diabetes. With all the potential things that can cause fluctuating blood sugars, how could a person with diabetes take full responsibility for high or low blood sugar?

It is hard to accept that there are things beyond our control. Unfortunately, in life there are many things outside our control, like lines at the post office or a tsunami.

Things, not in your control will always cause blood sugars to fluctuate out of your target range occasionally, and that is ok! As long as you take the appropriate steps to get them back within a healthy range, you are doing a great job.

Emotional Self-Care For Diabetes Management

Diabetes is unforgiving if you are unable to see the gray. Black and white views like bad and good only cause undue stress and emotional turmoil. Blood glucose readings are just numbers to guide you on your next step in managing your diabetes.

It may be better to look at high and low numbers as ‘undesirable’ instead of ‘bad’. ‘Bad’ is a punitive word and implies that the owner of the number is bad for letting their numbers go out of range. There is no gray in the word ‘bad’, whereas ‘undesirable’ is more emotionally neutral.

Emotional self-care is reducing or removing negative internal thinking. Changing the word ‘bad’ to ‘undesirable’ is a good start. By changing negative words like ‘bad’ to ‘undesirable’ when your blood sugar numbers are out of range, constitutes good internal thought management.

There are many other factors aside from the release of cortisol or insulin peaks that cause BG numbers to become undesirable. Give your self a break from negative thinking and refer to out-of-range blood sugars as ‘undesirable’, rather than ‘bad’.

Most importantly, if your blood sugar goes below 70 mg/dl do not spend time worrying about what caused it, take fast acting glucose immediately to bring it back in range.

Eliot LeBow

Eliot LeBow LCSW, CDE has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1977 and is a specialist in Diabetes-Focused Psychotherapy. He has a thriving psychotherapy practice in New York City and online via Skype Session. LeBow, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with, Type I and Type II Diabetes. He has a holistic approach combining traditional talk therapy with diabetes management. As a presenter, Mr. LeBow has presented on the emotional issues facing people with diabetes for multiple diabetes organizations including The Joslin Research Center, JDRF, ADA and the AADE at their annual conferences. In his free time, he founded and presently runs DiabeticTalks, a large online platform designed to help people living with diabetes.

Eliot LeBow

Eliot LeBow LCSW, CDE has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1977 and is a specialist in Diabetes-Focused Psychotherapy. He has a thriving psychotherapy practice in New York City and online via Skype Session. LeBow, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with, Type I and Type II Diabetes. He has a holistic approach combining traditional talk therapy with diabetes management. As a presenter, Mr. LeBow has presented on the emotional issues facing people with diabetes for multiple diabetes organizations including The Joslin Research Center, JDRF, ADA and the AADE at their annual conferences. In his free time, he founded and presently runs DiabeticTalks, a large online platform designed to help people living with diabetes.