Guest post by Ryan Rivera.
Anxiety as a whole is a natural response to stress. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you are concerned, as it activates your fight/flight mechanism and feeds your body with nervous energy. But for most people, that anxiety quickly goes away when the stressor goes away.
But when you suffer from diabetes, the stressor doesn’t go away. Like diabetes, your anxiety needs to be managed. It’s common for those with diabetes to suffer from some degree of anxiety, and unless you are able to keep it under control it can become a considerable mental health problem.
Starting at What Not to Do
There are plenty of drugs available for those living with anxiety, but ideally you do not want to be stuck on one of these powerful medications the rest of your life, along with all of your other health concerns you deal with on a regular basis. You can and should seek therapy if you need help coping, but you never want therapy to be your only long term solution. So what you need to do is find fun and interesting coping strategies so that you can manage your anxiety more easily during your daily life, and suffer from less stress in the long term.
But before you can even start exploring new coping strategies, you need to start the process of avoiding things that cause anxiety. Anxiety is additive, so the anxiety you feel because of your chronic health condition is exacerbated by the little things in life that fuel natural anxiety. It’s not just major things either, like dealing with a stressful job or getting out of a stressful relationship. The little things are important as well, which means:
- No speeding on the freeway.
- No watching horror movies.
- No playing poker.
Any small, relatively minor activity that may cause some degree of anxiety should be avoided, because it will only increase the amount of anxiety that you are already feeling, and could potentially lead to panic attacks. Like diabetes, anxiety does require some life changes, and while none of them are substantial, they will make a big difference in your day to day life.
Finding Your Strategies for Coping
Your next step is to find strategies for coping that work for you. There are numerous creative and interesting coping strategies that you can implement, and the reality is that if you find something that works for you then you should do it, provided it conforms to the following principles:
- It’s Healthy – Gambling, smoking, drinking, shopping for expensive clothes, or getting into various shenanigans are all not acceptable long term solutions for managing your diabetes. On the other hand, jogging, sitting outside by the lake, or playing the game “Go” with strangers – these are all healthy and productive coping strategies.
- It’s a Useful Long Term Solution – Anything that helps you cope is worthwhile, but you should especially be looking for strategies that you can employ at any time, whenever you feel the anxiety or panic coming on. The easier the coping strategy, the better.
- You Enjoy It – No coping strategy is going to help you for very long if you aren’t enjoying it. So you also need to find an activity that you can enjoy regularly.
With that in mind, there are a variety of avenues that you can choose. Most people choose one of the following ways of coping:
- Art – Art, poetry, and other forms of create expression are arguably the most popular, and potentially the most useful. They’re a healthy way to express emotion, an enjoyable activity, and one that you can continue to enjoy while you’re living with diabetes. It’s also a skill that you can work on over time, giving you something to look forward to every day as you continue your chosen craft.
- Sports – If you’re feeling up to it, you can also engage in sports leagues. Try to stay away from sports you get too competitive about (since that may lead to a bit of anxiety), but if there is a sport that you have fun playing win or lose, it can be a healthy way to release energy and spend time with interesting people.
- Relaxation Exercises – There are several relaxation exercises that you can also use to calm your mind and body when you’re feeling stressed. With deep breathing or visualization, you can quickly relax when you’re feeling stressed and use it as long as you have a few moments to yourself.
- Small Gatherings – Social support is a big part of dealing with both diabetes and anxiety. Having friends over for conversation helps as a distraction from the day’s events and gives you a chance to bond more with those that are important to you.
- Thought Journals – When you live with chronic illness, one of the primary causes of anxiety is simply the worries and thoughts you have about the day. Thought journals help with that a great deal. It’s been found that part of the reason your mind obsesses over worries is because it doesn’t want to forget them. By writing it down, your mind is less concerned with remembering it, and you can relax your mind a little.
While the above list represents some potential ideas for coping with chronic illness, anything you enjoy and can do easily is useful. Some people find skipping stones to be extremely relaxing, while others simply need to curl up with an interesting book and scented candles. These are all perfectly acceptable long term strategies, and perfect ways to reduce your anxiety.
Living with Diabetes and Anxiety
When you suffer from anxiety because of a chronic illness, you want to ideally stay away from powerful medicines, and while talk therapy is always a great solution, time and budget may get in the way. But the reality is that when you have diabetes, or any chronic illness, the key is simply finding productive coping strategies to manage it, and cutting out those things that lead to an increase in stress in your life. Do that, and you can focus on living a happy life and simply managing your diabetes.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera has long been victim to a number of anxiety related conditions and panic attacks. He shares information on these issues and more at www.calmclinic.com.
Thanks, Ryan, I’m going to start on some of these tips right away!