Diabetes and Psychology: Emotions and What to Watch Out for If You Have Diabetes 

Favio Forte

Multivitamins for glucose control for diabetics

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Favio Forte

Multivitamins for glucose control for diabetics
Covers the increased daily needs of vitamins and minerals for overall care for people with diabetes and supports the regulation of the blood sugar levels.

12.90

Author: Ivana Lazarova

“Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires constant attention and care. The starting point in diabetes management is usually related to the physical aspects of the disease – blood sugar control, diet, and physical activity. However, we often neglect the emotional side of diabetes, even though it plays a crucial role in the overall treatment process”

As I begin to write this article, I think about all the scientific studies I could cite, to discuss how science examines the relationship between diabetes and the psyche. However, my inner voice whispers to me that it would be much more helpful to tell my own story through the prism of emotions and how they affect the treatment of diabetes, as well as how diabetes makes me feel.

I have been living with this condition since I was nine years old. I don’t like to call it a disease, not because I deny it, but because I accept it exactly as such – a condition that requires care and constant control but also DOES NOT rob life of happy emotions, shared moments with loved ones, interesting experiences, and achievements in every aspect of life.

As I write this, I immediately think of Boyan Petrov, who continues to be an example for all of us, not just for those with diabetes. I allow myself to share my two outstanding sports achievements – the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage I completed in 2018 while carrying insulin in my backpack, and the Vitosha 100 race, which I successfully finished. 

Boyan Petrov was my inspiration for these experiences. He never once gave up or used being diabetic as an excuse. In turn, I have promised myself to not stop being active, taking care of my health, and to continue developing as a person and a professional in the field I have chosen, which is psychology.

In the Western world, we often separate the body from the mind, and from the spirit of the person. Eastern cultures, as well as various schools of thought in psychotherapy, see the person as an interconnected whole – mind, soul, and body. I adhere to the second theory. It is not coincidental that we say, “A sound mind in a sound body”. I chose to study psychology precisely because every day I discover new knowledge that enriches me and helps me in my work. The path to self-discovery is not easy, but we owe it to ourselves, acceptance, a warm embrace to all traumas, to all imperfections that make us unique and irreplaceable. Yes, it is difficult to accept that certain trials have happened to us, but instead of staring too long into the darkness, it is good to remember that we are the light.

I remember a particularly interesting lecture, where I learned about Salvador Minuchin – a family therapist, born and raised in Argentina, and his innovative work in family therapy. Minuchin examines various relationships within families and develops one of his theories, exploring children with type 1 diabetes. He observed that when family conflicts are not properly and healthily handled, they enter the child’s bloodstream. Personally, this was a logical explanation for my diagnosis with type 1. We often avoid conflict, but forget that silence only worsens things. Here, I am not talking about fighting over trivial matters, but about learning to be assertive in our relationships with loved ones, knowing our boundaries, and being able to assert our desires with calm strength and warm assertiveness. This combination is often used in Neo-Reichian Analytical Psychotherapy – I came across it through the books of Dora Prangadzhiyska, “Not Everything is Our Parents’ Fault” and “Thank You, Mom,” which I highly recommend to every reader.

There are many different theories about the relationship between emotions and our physical body, which I could not unite in a single article, but I hope to provide food for thought and a desire for deeper self-awareness for each of us. One explanation that I find more valid for type 2 diabetes is Liz Burbo’s theory that diabetes can be interpreted as a lack of sweetness in life. Another author who writes about the connection between the body and illness is Gabor Mate, whose film “The Wisdom of Trauma” I would call healing for everyone.

The connection of diabetes with emotions is multifaceted. As much as emotions (positive and negative) influence blood sugar control, high or low blood sugar levels also affect emotions. I often find myself in a gloomy mood when my blood sugar levels are high. 

It’s precisely that feeling of falling without a safety rope… as if losing control over yourself and unable to hold on. Similarly, strong emotions affect blood sugar levels. It has happened to me, especially as a teenager, to attend a concert, dance for hours, and then despite the dances, my sugar skyrocketed. This does not mean that we should stop going to concerts and having fun, but when strong emotions are ahead, let’s be mindful, measure blood sugar levels more often, and pay attention to what we eat.

I’ll give a positive example as well. When I was in the United States, despite trying to follow a strict diet, being very active, I gained a few kilograms and feared how it would affect my hemoglobin A1c values (a test that shows blood sugar control over the last 3 to 6 months). When I returned and measured the values, they were more than perfect for a diabetic. And that’s how positive experiences had a positive impact on the test values.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires constant attention and care. The starting point in diabetes management is usually related to the physical aspects of the disease – blood sugar control, diet, and physical activity. However, we often neglect the emotional side of diabetes, even though it plays a crucial role in the overall treatment process.

But how could we better cope with the emotional aspect? I will provide a few tips that have been beneficial for me, but I would say they are universally applicable to anyone:

Relaxation and breathing techniques: Meditations for healing our inner child or simply focusing on breathing with pleasant music in the background.

Progressive muscle relaxation: Tensing the muscles for 7 to 10 seconds, followed by relaxation for 20 to 30 seconds; repeating several times until reducing anxiety levels. We can also repeat how pleasant the feeling of relaxation is and observe how we feel.

Compassionate letter to oneself for moments when we blame ourselves, thinking that nothing is right, and that things could be much better: Sitting in a quiet and peaceful place, calming ourselves, and attempting to write as if we are writing to our best friend, someone to whom we are sure we would never have such harsh and high expectations for coping.

Visit to a psychologist: Psychological support is crucial for dealing with the emotional aspects of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Conversation with a good friend: Sometimes, this is the only therapy we need, and it’s important to seek support instead of isolating ourselves.

Diabetes is not limited only to physical symptoms and treatment. The emotional aspect plays a crucial role in the quality of life for people with diabetes. Recognizing this fact and providing appropriate psychological support are of essential importance for successful disease management. Combining physical and psychological strategies can improve not only blood sugar control but also overall well-being, contributing to a fulfilling and healthy life.

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