There are 29 million people living with diabetes in the United States (American Diabetes Association). That is equal to 9.3% of the population. Yet many people with diabetes report that they often feel alone in managing their disease. Managing diabetes often includes making changes to one's diet, increasing physical activity, taking medications, and self-monitoring blood glucose levels. These changes can feel overwhelming when an individual doesn't have people to lean on.
Where can people with diabetes find the social support they need? Family/social support can help to alleviate these feelings of isolation, while also positively impacting diabetes treatment adherence. Often the people you already spend time with everyday such as family, friends, and co-workers can be invaluable in helping out.
When building a social support network, it is important to be clear with yourself on several matters before reaching out and asking for support.
First, what is it that you need help with? One suggestion is an exercise partner. It is more fun to exercise with someone than to do it alone. Also you can help to motivate each other to exercise on days when you're not "feeling it". Another idea is to have someone help with reminders to check blood glucose or to take medications. Some people might like their family to keep an eye on what/how much they are eating, while others don't want to deal with the "food police.”
Second, you have to determine who can be most helpful. It may be your spouse when it comes to grocery shopping and cooking together. It may be a co-worker for a daily walk during your lunch break. Then figure out how they can best support you. Is it a text in the morning asking if you've taken your medication? Or perhaps a hug when despite your best efforts your blood sugar is too high.
Once you've thought about the type of support you are looking for, you will need to educate your friends and family about diabetes. There are many misconceptions out there about living a healthy life with diabetes. It may help to have loved ones come to a diabetes class with you, or send them to a website such as www.diabetes.org (The American Diabetes Association). Also let your loved ones know exactly how they can best help you. And of course teach them how to give the support you need.
The two key factors to effective support from close family members are: maintain realistic expectations about blood glucose levels and avoid blame. Family members must understand that you cannot always control blood glucose levels, even if you follow your diabetes care plan. Blaming the person with diabetes for high or low blood glucose levels does not help and can cause hurt feelings and arguments. The key to genuine support is to focus on problem solving. You and your healthcare team can help to convey this important message to family members.
There are other places to find support outside of your circle of family and friends. Check with your local hospital to see if it offers diabetes classes or support groups. The American Diabetes Association website (www.diabetes.org) has a section where you can search, by your zip code, for events that are close to you. Check with your physician's office to see if they have any diabetes support group meetings or ask if they are interested in starting one.
Also, today in our ever-connected world, online communities can provide a different forum for support. There are multiple groups on Facebook that people can join. There are groups that specialize in Type 1 diabetes and also groups for Type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association website has online support with an active message board. People with diabetes check in with each other and post their morning blood sugars, favorite healthy recipes, and tips for staying active.
No matter where you look for support, realize that you are not alone in managing diabetes. If the burden starts to feel like too much, you can always seek the help of a professional counselor, social worker or Certified Diabetes Educator.
Jodi Daigler, RD, CDE
Fit4D Diabetes Health Coach