An Introduction to Diabetes Distress and Burnout

Diabetes distress and burnout are two common experiences of those living with diabetes. Individuals experiencing diabetes distress or burnout often feel alone and isolated, often due to a lack of understanding and knowledge.

Diabetes Distress

Diabetes distress is the emotional response that is associated with living with and managing diabetes. Diabetes distress can have adverse effects on all aspects of life and diabetes management, as well as increasing diabetes-related challenges.

Diabetes distress is quite common among those living with diabetes. It is experienced by 1 in 4 individuals with type 1 diabetes, 1 in 5 individuals with type 2 diabetes who use insulin, and 1 in 10 with type 2 diabetes who do not use insulin.

Diabetes distress can look different for everyone, but some of the common signs include:

  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Frustration, anger, or worry about diabetes and diabetes management
  • Fear surrounding long-term effects of diabetes and related complications
  • A lack of support felt from family members and friends
  • Avoiding appointments 
  • A lack of motivation about diabetes management
  • Having difficulty and/or struggling to make choices

Diabetes Burnout

Diabetes burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion and overwhelm that result from living with and managing diabetes. It can be thought of as a step further than diabetes distress. Living with diabetes distress for long periods can lead to the development of diabetes burnout.

Like diabetes distress, the specifics of how diabetes burnout appears can differ between individuals. As a general rule of thumb, diabetes burnout includes being overwhelmed by diabetes management and, consequently, being unable to engage in diabetes self-care and management fully. 

Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Disengagement from self-care tasks (such as exercise and insulin doses)
  • Risky behaviors (both related to diabetes and in general)
  • Non-attendance at appointments
  • Feeling unable to cope with the demands of living with diabetes
  • Feeling powerless and unable to manage diabetes
  • Being overwhelmed by the idea of managing diabetes
  • Ceasing to take care of yourself and your diabetes (e.g. skipping insulin doses)

Dealing with Diabetes Distress and Burnout

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help prevent or respond to both diabetes distress and burnout.

  1. Recognize that you are doing something difficult, which can sometimes be hard. Being honest about the challenges of living with and managing diabetes is one of the first steps to preventing and responding to diabetes distress and burnout.
  2. Talk about it. Building a support system (including your diabetes management team) and interacting with others who have diabetes can give you space to ask for help, share experiences and advice with others, and be understood. When talking, be honest about what managing diabetes is like. Chances are, a lot of people are feeling similar.
  3. Accept help from your support people. Managing diabetes can be tricky. Accepting help from your support team (this may include your doctor, parents, and other healthcare professionals who help you manage your diabetes) can make a huge difference in making your diabetes management more manageable.
  4. Celebrate the wins! Make sure you take time to notice and celebrate your successes and what you are doing well (both diabetes-related and beyond). It can be easy to get sucked into the day-to-day challenges of diabetes management, but celebrating successes can help you gain a bit of perspective on how great you are doing! This is where a growth mindset can be useful, as it can help to reframe challenges associated with diabetes as opportunities for growth that can be celebrated.
  5. Don’t forget self-care. Doing things that bring you joy and are life-giving can make all areas of life much easier. Self-care is especially important in challenging situations and can improve all aspects of your coping ability. Not sure where to start on self-care? Try one of these ideas:
  • Journaling
  • Listen to music (and have a dance party)
  • Go outside
  • Spend time with a pet
  • Do something with your friends or family
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Tidy up a space, like your desk, that you spend a lot of time in
  • Read a book
  • Watch your favourite feel-good TV show or movie
  • Take a nap
  • Wash your bedding (trust me, it makes a huge difference!)
  • Pick up a new hobby or re-learn an old one
  • Be active or play a sport
  • Go for a walk outside
  1. Set realistic goals. Taking on the responsibilities of diabetes management can be difficult. Giving yourself grace in the expectations and goals you set for yourself is so important.

If you think you may be struggling with diabetes distress or burnout, reach out to healthcare professionals, your support team, or your counsellor for help and tools to respond effectively.

Further Sources 

For more information on both diabetes distress and diabetes burnout, check out these great resources!

“10 Tips for Coping with Diabetes Distress”

“What is Diabetes Distress and Burnout?”

“What is Diabetes Distress?”