How To Overcome Diabetes Burnout (With 4 Useful Resources)
Dec 3, 2015 @ 2:13 EDT
By Sheila Darlaston
What is diabetes burnout?
Ginger Vieira, a leading author about the subject, asks us to put ourselves into the shoes of someone living with diabetes:
Consider: your fingers are sore from constant finger pricks; you have painful injection sites due to scar tissue formation; every time you eat you’re always counting the carbohydrate content; the feelings of guilt you get about eating something you “shouldn’t” and yet you feel too hungry, tired and frustrated to choose differently.
Consider: the lack of control over your body and your life as you aim to achieve optimal glucose control in order to prevent and/or postpone diabetes-related complications.
Consider: your friends and family members whose love for you is often blanketed by their own fears about the disease and its potential progression. This turns them into the ‘diabetes police,’ whereby they are always monitoring your condition and perhaps even second-guessing your decisions when it comes to your own self-care.
Self-care for a person with diabetes involves balancing medications, food, and exercise as well as managing stress levels in order to achieve optimal blood glucose control. It requires constant planning as well as always being prepared for high or low blood sugar emergencies. The level of self-awareness required to create that balance, all while living a full and rewarding life, is no small task.
Being faced with the diagnosis of a chronic disease can be emotionally and psychologically debilitating, but living with it day in and day out – there are no days off – can create a slow but steady leak in your energy and confidence levels, ultimately eroding your capacity for self-care. It’s no small wonder that people living with the disease just simply burnout from time to time.
Diabetes burnout manifests itself as a laissez-faire attitude toward self-care. “The first thing most people seem to assume when they hear the phrase ’diabetes burnout’ is that it means someone who is experiencing it has completely given up on themselves and their diabetes,” says Ginger Vieira.
But do people really just give up?
Or, is there a larger picture at play?
On the inside, a person living with diabetes is simply struggling to feel good about themselves and to (re-)build a positive outlook with respect to their health condition. Dr. William Polonsky in his book, “Diabetes Burnout: What to Do When You Can’t Take it Anymore”, he addresses the personal, interpersonal, and environmental barriers to self-care. Personal barriers can include: chronic depression, eating disorders, lack of knowledge about diabetes, negative feelings about the disease in general, fear of hypoglycaemia, fear and frustration about weight gain, and unrealistic or unclear expectations about self-care.
Familial support, or lack thereof, can also be compounded by confusion about each person’s responsibilities vis-à-vis diabetes management, not to mention the sometimes poor relationships with health care professionals have developed with the patients under their care.
And finally, the environmental barriers of chronic stress, competing priorities, financial burdens, and unstructured lifestyles can make the pressure of self-care while living with a chronic disease very overwhelming, to say the least.
So, how are people living with the disease and their team of health care providers working to overcome diabetes burnout?
Simply put: self-empowerment.
Recently I attended a professional diabetes conference where people living with diabetes expressed what they needed from their healthcare team: a team who listened and remained empathetic, as well as a team who encouraged education about health and well-being. “Learning to understand the patient’s perspective will help health care professionals communicate more effectively and tailor the treatment to the needs of the individual,” according to F.J. Snoek in an article written for the University Medical Centre in Amsterdam.
As Vieira notes, “the experience of diabetes burnout is your own experience, and your path working through that burnout is your own experience.”
Here are four different types of education to help overcome diabetes burnout and ultimately achieve self-empowerment:
- Professional resources: medical doctors, naturopaths, nurses, nutrition coaches, life coaches, fitness coaches, psychologists, social workers, diabetes educators
- Diabetes Burnout: What to Do When You Can’t Take it Anymore by William Polonsky, PhD, CDE
- Dealing with Diabetes Burnout: How to Recharge and Get Back on Track When You Feel Frustrated and Overwhelmed Living with Diabetes, Emotional Eating with Diabetes and Your Diabetes Science Experiment by Ginger Vieira
- Mind over Mood by Christine Padesky, PhD and Dennis Greenberger, PhD
- Online support:
- Local (Ottawa) workshops and support groups:
Vieira, Ginger author of “Dealing with Diabetes Burnout: How to Recharge and Get Back on Track When You Feel Frustrated and Overwhelmed Living with Diabetes”. Demos Medical Publishing, New York, United States, 2014.
About the Author
Sheila Darlaston, RHN NNCP, is a graduate of the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in Ottawa. As a new graduate, Sheila started a nutrition coaching company, Nourish & Flourish. Sheila has lived with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years and was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012. Sheila developed a keen interest in the body’s healing processes, and the food that would best support those processes. She seeks to empower those living with diabetes and celiac disease.
Visit her website at