Women's Health Matters

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Being diagnosed with diabetes can be scary. A whole range of emotional reactions can occur. You may experience many different feelings. These feelings are normal responses to learning that you have a problem with your pregnancy, or a lifelong condition that will not go away and that you will need to learn to manage.

For many people with diabetes, these feelings are most pronounced in the weeks and months that follow diagnosis. After a while, a point of adjustment may be reached but many of these feelings do recur, depending on how you feel about your diabetes and what other stresses are present in your life.

If any one of these negative feelings lasts a long time and is intense, it is a good idea to talk to a mental health professional. Support, encouragement and an opportunity to express feelings can help you come to terms with the fact that you have diabetes and can still live a fulfilling life.

Common Emotional Responses

Here are some of the feelings commonly shared by people who are living with diabetes. The better you understand these feelings, the better able you will be to co-exist with diabetes.

Shock: You cannot believe this could be happening to you. It must be someone else's blood test! This period of shock and disbelief enables you to gradually adjust to the news you have been given. It is a healthy mechanism to help you cope and usually lasts a few hours or a few days, although feelings of disbelief can resurface from time to time during the initial few months after diagnosis.

Relief: If you and your doctor have been trying to sort out what is wrong with your health for a while, you may feel relieved to finally have a diagnosis. Now you can do something about the situation and no longer have to live with the stress of uncertainty.

Fear: You may be afraid because you do not know very much about diabetes and you are not sure what is going to happen next. You may also be afraid because you know diabetes may have serious long-term consequences. If you are a young mother, you may be concerned about your future health and your ability to care for your children. Either way, learning more about your condition and how to protect yourself from complications can help you cope with your fear.

Anger: You may feel angry when you are diagnosed with diabetes. You may think it is not fair that you have to deal with this condition and with new restrictions on your lifestyle. Anger, although an uncomfortable feeling, is a normal reaction for someone who has just developed diabetes or is facing a change in diabetes management. If your anger is interfering with your ability to manage your diabetes or with other aspects of your life, it is a good idea to let your doctor or diabetes nurse educator know how this is affecting you.

Anxiety: You may worry a lot about having diabetes. You may feel 'wound up' or have difficulty sleeping. Learning more about the condition may help you to feel more on top of things. Keeping busy with activities such as going to movies or seeing friends may help you cope. Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation may also reduce anxiety.

Grief: You may feel a real sense of loss. Your expectations about your life have changed. With any grief, often the best way to cope is to find people with whom you can share your feelings. Sometimes this may be a friend or family member. You may find it helpful to talk to other people with diabetes. Talk to your doctor or to the staff at your diabetes education centre for information about support groups.

Guilt: Because type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight, you may feel it is your fault if you were not at a healthy weight when you were diagnosed. This is particularly a problem for women, who already face pressure in our society to be thin. Type 2 diabetes results from the interaction of many factors and is not solely related to weight. The best thing you can do now is learn to live with your condition in a healthy way. Women who feel guilty about their eating and activity patterns may want to read the section on body image.

Denial: In the initial days after finding out you have diabetes, denial can be a way of coping with the news. However, long-term denial of the importance of self-management can lead to serious consequences. If you have diabetes and are reading this, you are probably aware of the importance of diabetes. If someone you care about has diabetes and seems to be ignoring her condition, there may be different reasons why this is happening. She may be fearful and unable to deal with the fear. She may not be ready to accept the fact that she has diabetes. She may prefer to ignore a problem in the hope that it will go away or resolve itself without intervention. Unfortunately like many health conditions, diabetes may get worse if it is ignored. Ignoring diabetes may initially seem to be the easiest way to cope, but it is not the healthiest in the long run.

Depression: A feeling of sadness is normal after you learn that you have diabetes. However, if this feeling persists for many months or becomes more intense, you may be experiencing depression. Other signs of depression include:

  • being tired most of the time
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • changes in eating habits
  • having trouble making decisions
  • feeling hopeless or helpless

Mild to moderate depression is not uncommon as a result of learning you have diabetes. People living with a chronic health condition tend to have a higher rate of depression than the general population. Depression is also more common in women than in men and is often undiagnosed.

Talk to your doctor or other members of your health care team about how you are feeling. Depression can be successfully treated through medication or counselling, or a combination of both. Your doctor will be able to recommend a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist with whom you can talk. A support group may also be helpful. For more information, see our A-Z Health Topics series on Depression or visit the Depression Canada Web site

For more on dealing with the feelings associated with diabetes, you may find our workbook, A Roadmap to living with Diabetes helpful. To order this book, click here.

Dealing with your Family's Emotions

It is also important to realize that family members or other people close to you may be experiencing a similar range of emotions, but may be at a different stage of coping than you.

For example, while you may be feeling relief that you can manage to live with diabetes, your partner or other family members may be afraid or angry at what has happened to you and may be wondering how this will affect your health or your and their lifestyles. You may need to explain how you are feeling and how you would like them to support you. If they have not received any diabetes education, you may also need to teach them about diabetes and explain that you can still lead a healthy, fulfilling life.

Sometimes, important people in your life may not understand the effort that is required to self-manage diabetes. They may not appreciate, for example, that you want to eat at regular times, even when travelling. Again, you will need to explain your needs or learn ways to take care of yourself, if those close to you are not ready to accept the situation.

If your family is reacting in a way that is difficult for you, it does not necessarily mean that they do not care about you. They may care deeply but be fearful and unable to face the fact that you have diabetes. If you do not feel that you are getting the support you need from those close to you, you can ask your doctor or diabetes educator to speak with your partner or family members. This is often helpful for them as it can relieve some of the stress they may be experiencing because they do not understand your condition.


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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital