Managing chronic illness of any kind is difficult and taxing. Dealing with diabetes has it’s own unique challenges. Constant attention to blood sugar levels, dietary restrictions, and feeling like you can’t enjoy what everyone else is eating are just some of the frustrations that those with diabetes experience every day. 

It can feel lonely and aggravating to try to stay on top of your health

Although we put a lot of pressure on patients with diabetes to manage their wellbeing, one relatively neglected part of the conversation are the roles that family and friends can play in helping those with diabetes.

People with diabetes should not go at it alone. Having sympathetic champions are crucial to staying healthy. It can be hard to know how to ask for help, however. Patients often do not want to burden close friends and family members. Research indicates that support from family and friends can improve the health of patients, both physically and psychologically.

Here are some tips to consider when asking for help:

1) Many people with diabetes feel angry about their predicament. It is frustrating to do so much work to take care of one’s body. Talk to those close to you about how you feel. It can be scary to talk about anger, but this is a reasonable feeling.

2) Get practical reminders from people who are with you everyday. Maybe a spouse can be more supportive around food choices or glucose monitoring. However, some people with diabetes can feel sensitive if a partner seems to be nagging. Negotiate ahead of time what a partner can say. For example, let your significant other know if you would appreciate reminders about checking your blood sugar.

3) Social situations that involve food can be difficult for those with diabetes. If you are invited over to someone’s house for dinner, don’t be afraid to remind the host that you prefer foods that are lower in carbohydrates.

4) Seeing a doctor can be difficult if you have diabetes. In some cases, patients feel embarrassed when asking about which foods are okay. Don’t be afraid to push your doctor for nutritional advice. If you don’t get the answers you need, ask for a referral to a nutritionist or consider seeing a physician who has more expertise regarding diabetic diets. 

5) If you are interested in exercising, find someone who will do this with you. Most people do not like to exercise alone. Having a walking partner, for example, makes exercise more fun and makes time pass quickly.

6) People with diabetes can feel easily ashamed about food choices. It is important to let people close to you know that while you appreciate help and support, you alone are responsible for your own health. You get to make your own decisions.

7) For both physical and psychological reasons, depression can be common among some people with diabetes. Being depressed makes self-care even harder. If you find you are feeling hopeless, more irritable, have unusually low energy and feel like giving up, consider asking for professional help.

8) Finally, other people with diabetes really know how you feel. Reach out to others with similar health problems and ask them how they cope. Reducing isolation is one of the most important factors in dealing with all medical illnesses.

About the Author

Tamara Greenberg

Tamara McClintock Greenberg, Psy.D., M.S., is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

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