You may think diabetes just affects your pancreas, but living with this condition often affects your mood and mental health too. For one, you may experience mood swings when your blood glucose levels are too high or low. Stress, depression, and anxiety can also crop up.
Managing diabetes on a daily basis can sometimes feel overwhelming, so it’s important to check in on your emotional well-being every once in a while.
One way to regulate your mood is to understand and follow your diabetes management plan. This will help smooth out the highs and lows in your blood glucose, which can cause mood swings.
You may need to talk with a mental health professional if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, burnout, or anxiety. Managing your mental health is just as important to your overall health as your diabetes treatment plan.
Mood swings and diabetes
Feeling a range of highs and lows is not uncommon if you have diabetes. Your blood sugar impacts how you feel and can contribute to mood swings. Poor management of blood glucose can lead to negative moods and a lower quality of life.
How do you know if you have low or high blood glucose? Your diabetes management plan should involve frequent blood sugar readings to help you manage the condition.
According to the American Diabetes Association, your target range for your blood sugar can vary from person to person. Generally, target ranges are:
- 80 to 130 milligrams per deciliter (ml/dl) before you eat a meal
- 180 ml/dl or lower a few hours after eating a meal
Numbers below or above your target range could be the source of changing moods.
You may notice that you feel off if your blood sugar is high or low and that getting your level back into the target range instantly improves your outlook.
You might also see a trend in your emotions when your blood glucose is low or high, so it’s important to test your sugar level when you feel a certain way. For instance, low blood glucose levels may make you feel:
High blood glucose levels may make you feel:
- angry sad
It’s important to keep your blood glucose as stable as possible. If you take insulin or a sulfonylurea, keep a fast-acting source of carbohydrate with you at all times. This way, if you have low blood glucose, you can bring it back up quickly.
If you experience big fluctuations throughout the day, talk with your doctor about a potential change to your treatment regimen.
Stress and diabetes
The stress of a diabetes diagnosis, and the stress of managing diabetes over time, can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and diabetes burnout. Some reasons you may feel stressed include:
- You may not be feeling well physically.
- You may be concerned about the management plan, including the daily regimen, lifestyle modifications, and costs.
- You may feel overwhelmed about lifelong treatment.
- You may be exhausted from maintaining your management plan.
Stress can affect diabetes negatively. Stress that lasts for many weeks or months can lead to unstable glucose levels. Your blood glucose levels can rise, and sometimes fall, with stress. These fluctuations can alter your overall mood.
Stress can interfere with managing your condition. When under stress, you may be less motivated to exercise and eat and drink according to your treatment plan.
Don’t let stress interfere with your diabetes management. Talk to your doctor about your stress levels, or reach out to a diabetes educator. Use the American Association of Diabetes Educators website to find an educator near you.
Mental health and diabetes
You may be at risk of developing a mental health condition if you have diabetes. Anxiety is common in people with diabetes, especially women. Between 30 to 40 percent of those with diabetes report having anxiety.
Up to 1 in 4 people with diabetes have depression. Women are more prone to depression with diabetes than men.
Some symptoms of depression include:
- low quality of life
- poor lifestyle choices
- changes in sleep patterns
- weight gain or loss
- tiredness or lethargy
- difficulty concentrating
It’s important to recognize symptoms of depression and seek help right away. Depression can make it difficult to manage diabetes. The highs and lows you experience with poorly managed diabetes can lead to greater changes in mood and worsening symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss the possibility of depression or other mental health conditions related to your diabetes.
You can inquire about mental health professionals with your insurance carrier or ask family or friends for recommendations. You can also refer to the National Alliance on Mental Illness to locate a provider.
Tips for coping
There are many ways you can make diabetes management easier and reduce the chances of experiencing mood changes, stress, depression, or another mental health condition. Try these methods for diabetes management:
Follow your diabetes treatment plan
The plan provided by your doctor likely includes daily medications, blood glucose screenings, and lifestyle adjustments.
Check your blood sugar regularly
Watch for high and low readings. Record unusual readings to communicate to your doctor if needed. Try methods to elevate or lower your blood sugar if your readings are outside of a normal zone.
Automate your plan
Put a timer on your smartphone that indicates when to take medications or check your blood sugar. This way, you can avoid forgetting important parts of your plan and keep your blood sugar steady.
Plan your meals
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is important if you have diabetes. Make a list of your favorite diabetes-friendly meals for the week, and use this list to grocery shop. Prepare food in advance if it makes it easier to follow your meal plan during the busy week.
Seek out help
It may be too difficult to manage a new diabetes management plan on your own, or you may find a life circumstance has made it more difficult to stick to your plan. There are many ways to get back on track:
- Ask your doctor for assistance.
- Find a diabetes educator.
- Sign up for a class about managing diabetes.
- Find a support group to attend.
- Talk to family and friends about diabetes so they can support your needs.
How to help someone cope
You may be a friend or family member of someone with diabetes. You can be instrumental in helping them care for the condition and watching for changes in mood or outlook.
Children and teens
Children and teens with diabetes need support and guidance from loved ones to stick to their management plans.
Make sure to serve them healthy foods, support them in athletic endeavors, and take them to regular doctor’s appointments. Watch for changes in mood or for signs of stress or depression, and help them seek resources to manage these conditions.
Adults with diabetes also need your help. You may be able to tell a loved one when their mood seems off and suggest they check their blood sugar. You may also be able to plan healthy meals or even exercise with them.
Talk to your friend or loved one about their condition and listen to what they have to say. Encourage them to seek professional help if you notice they’re slipping from their diabetes management plan or if you observe changes to their mental health.
When to see a doctor
There are several reasons to see a doctor about mood issues, stress, or depression if you have diabetes. Some of these include:
- if you are having trouble managing your blood sugar
- if your moods fluctuate regularly
- if you have lost interest in daily activities
- if you can’t stick to your diabetes management plan
- if you feel sad or hopeless
- if you feel suicidal (if this is the case, go to the emergency room)
The bottom line
It’s common to encounter mood swings, stress, or even depression if you have diabetes. To reduce the chances of experiencing these mental health conditions, maintain your management plan and keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
Never hesitate to reach out to family, friends, or a mental health professional to discuss your mental health or to get help with your diabetes treatment.
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