Dealing With Diabetes Burnout
August 21, 2023
Whether checking your blood glucose levels, counting carbohydrates, taking medications, getting regular exercise or going to medical appointments – managing diabetes can be hard work. For many people, it can be outright overwhelming.
“Diabetes burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that occurs when someone becomes worn out from managing their diabetes,” says Julia Blanchette, PhD, RN, BC-ADM, CDCES, a lead nurse scientist and diabetes care and education specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. “People who experience diabetes burnout often feel like giving up. As a result, they may avoid diabetes self-management tasks.”
How to Tell If You’re in Burnout
The sooner you recognize you’re in diabetes burnout, the sooner you can pull yourself out of it. Some common signs that you’re overwhelmed may include:
- Not checking your blood glucose levels frequently enough or even not at all
- Missing or skipping your medications
- Not wearing or utilizing diabetes technology
- Unhealthy eating habits or not counting carbohydrates
- Infrequent or no exercise
- Detaching from family, social and health care team support
If you’re in diabetes burnout, you may also experience:
- Strong negative feelings about diabetes, such as frustration, anger and the feeling of being overwhelmed
- Feeling diabetes has control of you
- Feeling powerless
- Feeling isolated or alone with diabetes
- Ignoring or trying to forget about the disease
“Often, the behavioral signs of diabetes burnout translate into more physical symptoms, such as when someone experiences the physical symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) after avoiding monitoring and taking medications,” says Dr. Blanchette.
What Triggers Diabetes Burnout?
The mental burden of managing a chronic health condition is often enough to lead to feelings of burnout. However, many factors can contribute to someone experiencing the condition, including:
- A person’s baseline mental health status
- Lack of access to a supportive health care team
- Inadequate support systems, including social and peer support
- Unrealistic treatment goals: For example, if someone’s A1C remains above their target range they may feel a sense of failure or inadequacy.
- Self-management barriers: Diabetes-related comorbidities, lack of adequate access to the right type and amount of medication, insurance plan problems, and experiencing hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
“Some people experience burnout for the first time following an episode where their blood sugar drops low enough that they require assistance from others,” says Dr. Blanchette. “There’s a great deal of emotional stress in those types of situations.”
Also, diabetes burnout often affects people going through major life transitions. Living on your own for the first time, losing a loved one, experiencing a major illness or injury—these sorts of big life events can all create a situation of emotional instability that can trigger diabetes burnout in many.
Diabetes Distress or Diabetes Burnout?
A related concept to diabetes burnout is diabetes distress, which refers to the concerns, worries and fears people with diabetes experience as they manage their condition over time.
“Diabetes distress can happen regularly or sporadically. When diabetes distress escalates to the point where a person becomes overwhelmed and feels like giving up, then distress crosses over into burnout,” says Dr. Blanchette.
Beating the Burnout
The first thing you should do if you suspect you have diabetes burnout is talk to someone, whether it be your primary care provider, diabetes care team or a mental health professional. Informing a caregiver about how you are feeling allows them to begin planning how to support you in reversing or preventing burnout.
“Also, connecting with peers living with diabetes can be extremely helpful when working through diabetes burnout,” says Dr. Blanchette. “This can be done by connecting with other people with diabetes on social media, joining a support group, or connecting with other people with diabetes through non-profit organizations.”
When you’re in burnout, it’s also important to spend time on yourself: Do things you enjoy on a daily basis, things that can help you decompress while giving you a break from thinking about how draining diabetes can be.
“While you certainly can beat diabetes burnout, some people have a tendency to fall back into it again,” says Dr. Blanchette. “That’s all the more reason to make sure you have a good health care team and other forms of support should your burnout ever get triggered again.”
Led by an experienced team of clinicians and researchers, the University Hospitals Diabetes & Obesity Center provides ongoing care, management and education for diabetes, prediabetes, obesity and related conditions.