Diabetes and mental health: letting go...
by Gemma Andrews
HCPC Registered Podiatrist
“Love yourself enough to loosen your grip and let go of what needs to be freed.”
So today, for various personal reasons, I am having a bit of a moment and started to cry. Tears – big, fat, sobbing and ugly! I didn’t even try to stop it or hide it, which is what I would usually do. There IS no hiding anymore now that we are all living in confined spaces and pretty much on top of each other all the time. (Sorry to my neighbours if they heard too! Living in an apartment means not much boundary space!).
I felt a lot better afterwards. Lighter and less overwhelmed. I realised that being all peppy and positive was weighing me down. People who know me, will tell you I really try not to get into the whole ‘what if” mindset. I can only imagine catastrophising diabetes isn’t a great idea at the best of times. Adding a pandemic to the ruinous thinking can’t be especially fun.
It is not surprising that people with diabetes are talking more about how their mental health is faring in the current situation. Living with a life-long condition that is so demanding and has the ability to mess with people’s minds in the most insidious way already makes people susceptible to feeling distressed. Dr Rose Stewart, Principal Clinical Psychologist suggests:
“Focusing on things you can control could help people living with diabetes, or affected by diabetes, to manage any stress, anxiety or sleeplessness you may be experiencing.”
If you are finding yourself worrying, it might be helpful to focus on things you can control in your life.
Look after your body – try to eat healthy meals and be as active as you possibly can.
Say no to things if you need to; you are not a machine!
Step outdoors. Even if its just to look at your surroundings. You never know what you might see. You don’t have to be Usain Bolt to see the benefits of exercise. Small movements can be just as effective. Diabetes UK has more information on this. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Managing-your-diabetes/Exercise
Keep connected – stopping physical contact doesn’t mean becoming disconnected to people. In fact, if there was a time that we need to feel connected to people, its now. So many of us now are familiar with video chats available on Zoom, Skype, but for the love of all that is good, check what’s going on behind you before doing your calls!
Limit your time spent on social media especially the unreliable sources (unless, of course it’s by a certain American President and his comments on use of ‘disinfectant’ are well, just basically idiotic: sarcastically meant or not). Its ok to take a break from the news if it’s too much.
Talk about how you feel. Maybe you don’t feel like you need to talk about anything, or you don’t want to burden anyone. But offloading some of what you’re feeling has lots of benefits. Diabetes UK has lots of useful information. This can be found on https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/emotions/talk-about-feelings
The mental health charity Mind have put together some helpful information too on taking care of your mental health in general and also dealing with the lockdown. This can be found on https://www.mind.org.uk/coronavirus-we-are-here-for-you/
Read something that’s not COVID-19 or diabetes related.
Focus on a new hobby, something you would never normally do. I find myself focussing on baking. By that, I mean that I look for the simplest of recipes that will yield the most impressive results. That way, my friends think that I am far more of an expert than I really am! I’m not ready to correct those misconceptions just yet.
An infographic produced by the Leicester Diabetes Centre using information sourced from the NHS, Diabetes UK, Mental Health Foundation and WHO, sums this all up nicely. The full infographic is available to download by clicking on this link https://www.leicesterdiabetescentre.org.uk/covid19-blog/2020/3/30/infographic-1
Coincidently, when I shared this blog with my colleague Lynne, she appreciated my candour and thoughts.She explained that she had been having similar conversations with a number of other friends and colleagues.In fact, on the previous day this was discussed within the network group she belongs (https://businessbabble.net/) who have been meeting remotely via video conferencing. Some of the ideas the group had spoken about to help others deal with frustrations and anxiety reflected my thoughts above with some others being:
Put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to write down concerns to stop them circulating in your head
Alternatively write creatively/for fun
The use of music – listen to tracks that make you happy or calm you down, or for those of your lucky enough to have the ability to play an instrument use it in the same way. May be connect with friends who also play and hold a remote session.
Singing, drawing, painting – these were all suggestions
Games and quizzes – these keep our minds busy…perhaps even create your own?
Meditation – there are all sorts of digital options available, including short guided sessions…not for everyone I appreciate, but worth exploring to broaden our experiences?
Remember, the key is to focus on things you can control. You will find yourself less anxious and more positive. Find something(s) that works for you.
I’m trying to remember how I learnt to move from thinking “what if” to “what if it never happens”. It took me a long time to understand how to do that, with varying levels of success. There were always scenarios that made me feel anxious, and it was a struggle to try to be rational. I found that by allowing myself to think about the most worrying, scary and uncertain things for a set amount of time – letting go of myself, I guess, to the worry and concern – I could then move on.
It turns out that pandemics bring out the cataclysmic. The end-of-days thinking is not especially good for one’s already stressed mental health. Thinking about the things that are happening or that could happen is hard. Hard, scary and terrifying.
This week, I have kept coming back to how a study carried out by the Diabetes Organisation and the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group for diabetes) showed that the number one problem area for people who participated in the study was the concern about the future and development of diabetes-related complications. There is so much fear of the unknown in diabetes. We just don’t know how it will play out. We do what we can, we assess and try to minimse the risk, we do the best we can with the situation we are in. But we don’t really know what is around the corner.
COVID-19 is that all over again! But with diabetes thrown in for good measure.
Today, I gave permission for worry and concern to come out because pushing it away doesn’t always work. It flooded over me, hence the sobbing like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ – just ever so slightly less glamorous. I didn’t try to hide it away. And then…then I could breathe again and work on the things that help me feel lighter.
So now, I am breathing deeply. I am standing outside watching my neighbours Dachshund run around in circles because she hasn’t realised that she’s not a puppy anymore. I’m listening to 90’s rock – it reminds me of my youth, and best of all, I feel motivated and determined.
I’m still muttering to myself that this too shall pass, Not yet, and maybe not for some time, but it will. This. Too. Shall. Pass.
Here is a list of a few additional resources that can potentially help improve/maintain good mental wellbeing (and perhaps even physical wellbeing):
https://www.handsonmindfulness.co.uk/ Wellbeing Workshops combining mindfulness and creativity that are unique, fun and relaxing. Great options for 1 to 1, families, groups as well as corporate clients.
https://www.calm.com/ - Includes a free to download App that can help with sleep and offers mediation techniques, [other similar Apps are available].
https://www.thecalmzone.net/ CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) a Nationwide organisation provides confidential 24/7 support against suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. It also offers support to those bereaved by suicide, through the Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP).
The HealerZone www.healerzone.com Set up by Jill Tiller, a breathing coach, in 2011, The Healerzone offers training, support and resources to people whose focus is the well-being of others. The website provides information on holistic techniques and courses as well as a community network on Facebook to connect with like-minded people.
The Breathing Coach, Jen Tiller https://www.jentiller.co.uk/
“Reversing asthma, anxiety, and trauma gently and simply. Preventing burnout for leaders and health professionals!”