Reducing Diabetes Distress Tips: Everyday Self-Care Acts 


Depression is very common in type 2. In fact, it has been referred to as ‘the chicken and the egg’ phenomenon, as in which came first? That’s because many symptoms of depression pose risk factors for type 2 diabetes (coping with food, overeating, poor sleep hygiene, lack of energy and subsequent sedentary behavior, etc.). 

The really neat thing is that some of the front line treatments for depression are the same as for improving health and diabetes management: exercise and eating right! Exercise is a natural antidepressant and unhealthy foods only further contribute to poor feelings of self. That’s why much of my work is helping individuals to adopt healthier behaviors because it has a positive impact on both the mental and physical side. And, when folks have better blood glucose control, they feel better physically because they are experiencing fewer highs and lows or are actually able to get it into the target range. 

Reducing diabetes distress tips: Everyday self-care acts

Appreciate all that you go through to manage your diabetes. 

  • This may sound ridiculous, but consider some of the positives of having diabetes… (more resilient, better at math, forces me to look at what I eat, more disciplined). Use positive affirmations and reminders. I like to use a dry erase marker on my bathroom mirror for affirmations and uplifting quotes. 

Don’t allow diabetes to control or define you. 

  • You are so much more than diabetes, more than the numbers. Create a statement or personal description of who you are. 

Do your best but don’t let the numbers get you down. 

  • Blood sugar, A1c, this is all just data. Focus on your behaviors that influence your blood sugar (what you can do about it) rather than the actual numbers itself. 

Take responsibility.

  • No one expects you to do it on your own, but no one can do it but you. 

Make your best effort to manage your overall health. 

  • Eat right, exercise, take your meds. Not only will these help with your health and managing blood sugar, but it will also help manage stress and improve mental health. Talk about a cheat code/It’s a win-win for mind-body.

Continue to learn. 

  • Diabetes self-management education is advised periodically. Even if you’ve had it in the past, we all need refreshers. Plus, things change! Advances in research and standards of treatment are always being updated. You change! With time and as you age, your needs and diabetes-related needs may change. “An increased awareness of our diabetes gives us clarity versus blaming the disease itself.” 

Connect with others. 

  • It helps to know you are not alone and that others have similar experiences to you. Talk to others whether in person (an acquaintance/friend/family member, at a support group) or online.  

Eating disorders and diabetes

In my job, I see a lot of binge eating disorder and night eating syndrome. I also see a lot of folks who simply make poor food choices (a number of causes, education is a big one) But the most common is definitely just disordered eating habits that may not necessarily meet criteria for an eating disorder, but that fall outside of traditional eating habits. 

I see this most often as demonstrated by skipping meals and going long periods of time without eating. Skipping breakfast or going all day without eating until dinner time is so common! Problem is, that sets people up for real trouble. When we wait until we are “starving” we (1) never make good choices, and (2) overeat. This also sets the stage for folks eating if they wake up at night. 

Of course, this all goes back to some of the things I mentioned above… we live in a busy and stressful world. Taking the time to actually stop and eat, much less plan ahead and prepare meals, can be overwhelming and for some seems almost impossible. Educating on these behaviors and creating strategies that work for them and their life is important, as well as setting small, progressive goals.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

  • Most healthcare providers don’t outright ask about your mental health. They don’t have the training or time and may fear “opening Pandora’s box.” But they can make referrals. I encourage providers to always make a referral for behavioral health before or at least when they prescribe medications for depression or anxiety. 

Managing your mental health matters

  • We know that if your emotions and mental health are struggling, chances are that your physical health, blood sugar and healthy behaviors are struggling too.

Reach out for professional support 

  • Find a mental health provider who understands diabetes (use a tool like the ADA’s mental health provider directory). If your struggle is not necessarily related to your diabetes but other issues like relationship challenges, anxiety, stress, grief, (or just life!) connecting with a mental health provider who doesn’t specifically deal with diabetes may be just as helpful. Talk to your doctor or endocrinologist, they will likely know a good resource. 

Contact me via phone, 843-883-2400, or email me at Check out my website for more info And be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more content @diabetes_therapist. 

WRITTEN BY Alexis Elliott, LCSW, LISW-CP, DCES, POSTED 07/18/19, UPDATED 12/12/22

Alexis Elliott, LCSW, LISW-CP, DCES, is the owner and therapist of Diabetes and Obesity Treatment Strategies (DOTS). Alexis specializes in mental health, and behavioral and lifestyle challenges among people with diabetes, those at risk for diabetes and weight-related issues. Her passion is connecting the dots between mental and physical health. She is experienced in the challenges unique to diabetes and her motto is "Don't just survive with diabetes...thrive!"