How to handle the anxiety of diabetes
Written by Dr Keith Grimes
, 4 min read
Type 2 diabetes can trigger a whole range of feelings. Some people are relieved to know what’s been causing their symptoms. But many feel shocked, distressed, guilty - and worried.
When you’re first diagnosed, there’s a lot of new information to take in. And you’ll probably have lifestyle changes and treatments to think about too. Even when you’ve been living with diabetes for a while, you have to manage it every day. It can feel like an ever-present weight on your mind.
So, it’s not surprising that people with type 2 diabetes can feel overwhelmed and anxious.1
Coping with your diabetes, you might be worried about the future, and the risk of complications. You might feel anxious if you can’t seem to make your new healthy habits stick. Or if your diabetes management goes off-track.2 Maybe you’re concerned about how the treatments affect you.
All of these concerns are normal and understandable.2 And in fact, a small amount of worry or stress can be positive - it can help motivate you to take action.
But it’s important to stay aware of your feelings, because they can easily tip from helpful to harmful. Anxiety can grow, causing distress and interfering with your daily life.2
High levels of anxiety are common in people with diabetes. According to Diabetes UK, at least one in 6 people with type 2 diabetes has moderate or severe anxiety symptoms.2 So, if you’re suffering, you’re not alone.
What you can do
First, do your best to stay in control of your diabetes. The better you manage it, the less you’ll worry. So read up on how to manage the condition, and follow the recommendations of your diabetes doctor or nurse. Keep in mind that if you’re overweight, you might be able to reverse your diabetes by losing 15kg or more.3
If you are feeling anxious about your diabetes, here are a few tips to help lighten the load:
- Talk: Make an appointment to talk to your doctor or diabetes nurse about your worries. They can help to put your mind at ease and support you with self-care6
- Make a plan: Create a care plan with your doctor or nurse to help you feel in control. Writing it down means you can track everything, including diet, exercise, blood sugar levels, treatments and appointments. Try to set yourself goals, and make them as specific as possible: what will you do, how, and when?
- Get support: Join a diabetes support group online or in-person. Talking to people who are going through the same can be a huge help, and you might pick up some useful tips6
- Share your feelings: Talk about your worries with family, friends or a counsellor6
When you feel overwhelmed
At times when you feel overwhelmed with anxiety or stress, try these steps to feel calmer: 7
- Do deep breathing exercises: Deep breaths can calm your mind
- Try mindfulness: Start by downloading an app to guide you
- Take some exercise: A walk, run, swim, gym session or yoga can help you relax
Staying calm day-to-day
Nobody functions at their best when tired or hungry. You can improve your mental wellbeing by following general lifestyle tips that help everyone:
- Get enough sleep: Most of us need between 7 and 9 hours to be at our best and most resilient8
- Keep your energy levels stable: Eat a balanced diet. Include whole grains, lean protein, nuts, seeds and plenty of veg to help avoid low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)7
- Regular activity: As well as helping you relax in moments of high anxiety, keeping active will boost your mental wellbeing. So try to do something active each day9
Should I be worried?
Keep in mind that while you should take your type 2 diabetes seriously, it doesn’t need to rule your life.
There may be challenges, but with the right support, you can overcome them. You can take control.
So talk to a doctor if you’re struggling to cope with feelings of anxiety or panic. Living with diabetes doesn’t mean living with distress.
Diabetes UK. Emotions. www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/emotions
NHS. Anxiety, fear and panic. www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-panic/
- Diabetes UK. Emotional health professional guide. Facing life with diabetes. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/resources/shared-practice/psychological-care/emotional-health-professionals-guide/chapter-2-facing-life-with-diabetes, accessed 28 October 2021
- Diabetes UK. Emotional health professional guide. Diabetes Distress. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/resources/shared-practice/psychological-care/emotional-health-professionals-guide/chapter-3-diabetes-distress, accessed 28 October 2021
- Diabetes UK. Diabetes remission. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/treating-your-diabetes/type2-diabetes-remission, accessed 28 October 2021
- Diabetes UK. Emotional health professional guide. Anxiety disorders. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/resources/shared-practice/psychological-care/emotional-health-professionals-guide/chapter-7-anxiety, accessed 28 October 2021
- Royal College of Psychiatrists. Anxiety, panic and phobias. https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/anxiety-panic-and-phobias , accessed 28 October 2020
- Diabetes and Mood Information prescription. Diabetes UK. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/resources-s3/2018-02/Diabetes%20UK%20Information%20Prescription_Mood.pdf
- NHS. Anxiety, fear and panic. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-panic/, published 15 October 2019
- How much sleep do we need? Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need, published 10 March 2021
- Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers’ report. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-guidelines-uk-chief-medical-officers-report, published 7 September 2019
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.