What is your diabetes distress level?

Almost everyone with diabetes has at one time or another experienced diabetes distress.

What is diabetes distress? Almost everyone with diabetes has at one time or another experienced diabetes distress. The term 'diabetes distress’ relates to levels of stress, ability to cope, emotions and feelings (sometimes hidden feelings) surrounding self – managing diabetes. Distress should not be confused with clinical depression. The context of diabetes distress (worry, fear of the future, etc.) derives from diabetes. It is worth noting that based on the severity level of distress; our ability to self-manage diabetes may be impacted.

Research surrounding diabetes distress

The emotional distress associated with diabetes is real. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at how patients with diabetes, self-managed their disease. The study used a ‘diabetes distress’ scale to measure emotional distress and functioning as it related to living with diabetes. The purpose of the study was to determine if empowerment and self-management supported interventions led to improved health outcomes and lower levels of diabetes distress.

Common causes of ‘diabetes distress’

Indisputably, a certain degree of distress goes hand in hand with diabetes. This distress includes:

  1. The day to day management of the disease
  2. Stress in coping with weight management, dietary restrictions, family and cultural obligations and even money issues
  3. Overall worry and fear of the future
  4. A lack of a reliable support system
  5. A loss of control and a feeling of helplessness

Diabetes distress is not depression

Interestingly, for diabetics, diabetes distress is much more common than depression. While many of the symptoms of diabetes (including hypoglycemia) can mimic symptoms related to clinical depression– such as irritability, moodiness, weight loss and interrupted sleep patterns, those symptoms alone do not mean you are clinically depressed. Based on severity, assessment and situational origin of emotional stress, healthcare providers can determine distress from depression.

Avoiding ‘diabetes distress’

The good news is that ‘diabetes distress’ can be avoided or reduced. Discussing stressful diabetes situations with your healthcare team will help reduce your level of distress. You shouldn’t feel powerless in controlling your diabetes! To enroll in a community-based Michigan State University Extension chronic disease self-management workshop or for more information on diabetes and your health visit MSU Extension.

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