MySugr blog article: ‘Living with Diabetes Interview: Diabetes Coach Charlotte on Diabetes Burnout’

Interview: Diabetes Coach Charlotte on Diabetes Burnout

Diabetes burnout. It’s a term that’s often thrown around. Diabetes burnout can sometimes feel like a rare and exotic animal. And many of us fear it, without ever having seen it.

It’s natural to fear the unknown. But knowledge equals power and by being informed you’ll feel ready to tackle whatever comes your way throughout your diabetes journey.We spoke to wonderful diabetes coach Charlotte Pots all about diabetes burnout. Charlotte works directly with people with diabetes, who may be experiencing problems with their mental health, including diabetes burnout. Also able to draw from her own experience, Charlotte herself dealt with diabetes burnout in 2016.Keep on reading to gain an expert’s insight into diabetes burnout.

According to your own knowledge and experience, what is diabetes burnout?

Diabetes burnout is gradually becoming less of a taboo, mainly because more and more people with type 1 diabetes are experiencing diabetes burnout (or diabetes depression).

Research shows that individuals living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and eating disorder diagnoses.¹  People with diabetes may feel overwhelmed by their condition, frustrated and defeated. The very definition of diabetes burnout.

But diabetes burnout is not just a ‘burnout’.   Emotional stress in people living with diabetes is also referred to as ‘diabetes distress’ (DD).¹ Anyone living with diabetes will be able to imagine this. Living with diabetes is top sport. It demands your full attention every day. Diabetes is not something you have for a little while. It’s there 24/7, 365 days a year, with no pause button.  Sometimes an autoimmune disease can be so overwhelming that there seems to be no way out.

What would you say are the main causes that lead to diabetes burnout?

When living with diabetes, you have to make hundreds of choices and decisions every day that can put you in or out of balance.² And then there are the daily blood pricks and insulin shots… Your mental stress can get worse and worse and start affecting your mindset. Diabetes can completely exhaust you emotionally and physically. Stress can also cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate, and affect other areas like sleep, cause you to skip meals, drink more alcohol, and maybe take medication.² A vicious circle. Breaking this cycle of negativity is the answer to diabetes burnout.

Can you tell us about your experience of diabetes burnout?

Today I consider my diabetes burnout a gift, but at the time I didn’t see it so positively.

I was 38 when alarm bells started ringing. I felt empty, useless and had to drag myself to make it through the day.  It wasn’t the first time my body had sounded an alarm. Just a year earlier, I was frequently at the doctor’s office with bladder infections, intestinal cramps and fatigue symptoms. This was clearly more than a dip, but with a busy job, (the sweetest) two toddlers and a husband who often works abroad, it’s not surprising that I was exhausted.

No coach or doctor made the connection that my health could be the culprit. My burnout and unstable blood sugars were just seen as symptoms. But the real cause of all this turned out to be my diabetes. I only discovered this when I started in the world of orthomolecular medicine and began to live differently. By nourishing my body, I felt it gradually improving. With the help of a coach and taking action myself, the dark thoughts in my head slowly started to fade away and I adopted a positive outlook.

My self-confidence grew, step by step. For a long time I was ashamed of my diabetes. I would never walk around with my insulin pump exposed. Now it’s no longer an issue. Everyone can see it. Diabetes is part of me. The time when diabetes ruled my life is behind me. I now choose my own path. And I wish the same for others. As a fellow person with diabetes I want to be a source of inspiration. Your greatest supporter. As an orthomolecular therapist and certified lifestyle coach I want to show you the way to lifelong diabetes management.

Diabetes Burnout

What should someone do if they feel like they might be experiencing diabetes burnout?

During my coaching sessions, I often hear how people try and fight against their diabetes. While they dutifully follow advice and instructions, diabetes has no place in their lives, which creates resentment and tension. This is precisely what prevents them from feeling confident and powerful.

Sometimes you need someone to open your eyes and teach you a different perspective. Here are some tips that have often helped me too:

1. Me-time and moments of rest. 

Start to incorporate me-time and moments of rest into your daily routine. Mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises are a great place to start. When your nervous system is balanced, you’re less driven by emotions. Your behavior improves and you can enjoy yourself more.  With your emotions in balance, you’ll be more able to deal with blood sugar fluctuations and nagging alarms from your CGM without going into stress mode.  Paying more attention to your breathing helps regulate the autonomic nervous system. Try to live in the now on a daily basis instead of rushing through things. Follow your feelings and your heart.

2. Exercise

Physical exercise helps reduce emotional stress, improves blood flow and increases insulin sensitivity. For people with diabetes, regular exercise is important. I know that exercising with diabetes can sometimes cause frustration but rest assured, you really don’t have to run to the gym every day. A few daily strength exercises that increase your heart rate will go a long way.  A walk in nature also works wonders.

3. Strengthen your mindset

Always have a goal in mind to determine how you want to develop as a person with diabetes. And don’t be afraid of small setbacks! If you feel yourself drifting further away from your goals, chop them into small mini-goals. This approach is not only much more motivating, but also much more fun and successful! Imagine doing 1% better each day than the last. That may not seem like much, but after 100 days your life will look completely different.

4. Put yourself first

Too often we get stuck in circumstances that are not good for us. We give more energy than we receive. All that giving can suck you dry, and make you feel tired and unhappy.  Daring to put yourself in first place is important for everyone, and especially for people with diabetes. If we don’t take care of ourselves, stress hormones have free reign in our bodies and can end up throwing blood sugar levels into disarray.

Are you satisfied with who you are or do you, like me, set the bar too high too often? How well do you take care of yourself? Start looking for things that help you relax. Try reading a book, taking a bath, or a brisk walk. Planning moments of rest helps to keep your mind and body in balance. Start today. Plan things that you really enjoy. Because believe me, those who don’t take care of themselves, cannot take care of others.

Any final thoughts on diabetes burnout? 

We can accomplish so much more together than alone.  Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary. Everyone encounters obstacles from time to time. Some tackle them on their own, others like to work with a professional.

My clients realize that if they keep doing what they were doing, their lives will look exactly the same in six months. They choose to take responsibility themselves and start living a healthy lifestyle. In my coaching programs I provide the tools for you to change your life in the form of small lifestyle changes.

I missed this support myself when I was diagnosed aged 14 and later when I went to college, got married, and became a mother, because life with diabetes is always just a little bit different.

All of the information in this article is based on the following sources:

1. Ducat, L., Philipson, L.H., Anderson, B.J., 2015. The Mental Health Comorbidities of Diabetes. JAMA, [online].
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439400/.
2. Kalmbach, D.A.,  Anderson, J.R.,  Drake, C.L., 2018. The impact of stress on sleep: Pathogenic sleep reactivity as a vulnerability to insomnia and circadian disorders. Journal of Sleep Research,  [online].
Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.12710
3. Stanford Medicine, 2020. New research shows how to keep diabetics safer during sleep. [webpage] Available at: https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2014/05/08/new-research-keeps-diabetics-safer-during-sleep/ [Accessed 14/01/2021].
4. Medical News Today, 2019. How does diabetes affect mood and relationships? [webpage].
Available at:  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317458 [Accessed 15/01/2021].

The mySugr website does not provide medical or legal advice. mySugr blog articles are not scientific articles, but intended for informational purposes only.

Medical or nutritional information on the mySugr website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Charlotte Potts

Charlotte has lived with type 1 diabetes for 27 years. She is a certified nutrition therapist and loves helping people with diabetes to be healthier and be more confident by figuring out a few simple lifestyle changes to optimize their diabetes management. Check out her Instagram profile right here.
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