Thinking About the Psychology of Diabetes

Last week was all about Diabetes Week and the topic of research. It was a really interesting process learning about how diabetes was discovered, how treatment has progressed and where it can look to go in the future. But in my personal opinion, there is another avenue that diabetes research could go down... Psychology.

In my experience as someone who has had diabetes for a while, the psychology behind how you feel, what you think and how having the condition effects your mental well-being is an understated aspect of diabetes. Moving from children's clinic to adult, going from parents looking after your diabetes to taking your own responsibility and moving from insulin injections to an insulin pump. These are all massive transitions in someone with diabetes' life. Not to mention all of the transitions that happen naturally in normal life- whether it's moving from being a teenager to an adult or leaving home to go to university for example.

When I was in university I was part of a sports scholarship program. We often had additional lectures to assist in sporting performance outside of our normal degree. One of the key issues covered in our scholarship lecture series that has stuck with me, was one called 'transitions in sport'. It's a well known fact that what's going on in your head can heavily effect how you're body performs in sport. And the sports psychologist taking the lecture taught us that if you can prepare and manage for these transitions, then you'll be a much more balanced athlete for it. The transitions in sport are not dissimilar to those in diabetes, the end result is still good performance whether it be on the track or with your blood sugar readings. But the point is if you get your head right the rest of you should follow. Transition is all about coping with change and by they're very definition, blood sugars are the ultimate changing/balancing act.

The reason that I believe diabetes psychology is so understated, is that we go through these transitions and whilst our physical well-being is looked after, sometimes the mental well being is swept to the side. Although, people with diabetes know, or soon learn that how you feel can directly effect your blood sugar levels and in turn your hba1c. If I'm feeling stressed, anxious or nervous the adrenaline makes my blood sugars shoot up. And on the opposite side severe shock for example will make me hypo.

This is why I believe in the availability of someone to talk to in clinics in addition to the team of consultants, dietitians and nurses. I believe it would really help people manage the day to day questions and issues that accompany diabetes, that aren't answered through a blood test. I think it would give greater coping mechanisms to young people to manage their diabetes during difficult times, and it would help lessen some of the pressures that they face too.

I was recently speaking to someone I've known for years, and they mentioned that their mother had just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She'd known the condition was a possibility if she didn't make drastic changes to her lifestyle in terms of diet and exercise. But understandably the diagnosis still came as a massive shock. All of a sudden she'd been told to start taking medication and that chances were she'd be on tablets with a more restricted diet for the rest of her life. But it wasn't the taking medication or the giving up 'naughty' foods that frightened her. It was the mental shock of 'what would happen now?', 'why did it happen to me?' and 'how will I cope?'. And as things stand unless she seeks out a counselor herself, she will have to work out the answers alone.

At the moment there aren't (or not in my clinic anyway) psychologists or counselor's available to see as part of your treatment. However, perhaps clinic itself is ready for a transition where it starts to look after your body and mind, and not just your blood sugars.


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My blog takes you through a daily look at sport, diabetes and everything in between. As an athlete that lives with type 1 diabetes I want to let you into news, views and all that is important to both of my passions.

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