What does it actually look like to bring mindfulness into your diabetes management? According to Sam Tullman, the co-founder of Diabetes Sangha, an online community dedicated to meditation and mindfulness practices for people with diabetes, it’s all about taking something that we are already constantly doing and just being a little more intentional about it.
On a recent episode of the Reclaim Your Rise podcast, Sam, diagnosed at age 8, shares his thoughts that, “people with diabetes naturally have a leg up in learning these [mindfulness] practices because we're very good at paying attention. It's a survival mechanism.”
Counting carbs, planning for what meal or activity is next, remembering how much insulin we gave earlier, factoring in the amount of stress we are under on any given day… There's no doubt about it: managing T1D requires a lot of attention.
But is attention the same as observation or mindfulness? Many of the decisions we make for our diabetes do the opposite of meditation - they take us OUT of the present moment, sending our minds spinning around numerous factors both in and out of our control.
As Sam explains, “Mindfulness is about more than just attention. Attention is a really important component of it, but we're paying attention all the time as people with diabetes. So if mindfulness was just attention, we'd all be pros.”
So what’s the difference between mental alertness of T1D and true mindfulness?
Sam says it’s “a caring attention, a non-judgmental attention.”
At Risely, we refer to this as choosing “curiosity over judgment” or “putting the hammer down and picking up the magnifying glass.” There is ample opportunity to let the attentiveness required to manage T1D turn into self-judgment and perfectionism. For example, how often do you see an out of range blood sugar and think to yourself “Ugh, I should be able to do better than this” or “I should know better than to have let this happen.” How often do your numbers make you feel like either a success or a failure?
As Sam discusses, “People living with diabetes… have a tendency towards perfectionism because it's almost like a kind of defense mechanism.” And he explains that the challenge for people with T1D is to channel that natural attentiveness in meditation without the judgment and perfectionism. “White knuckling” our way through “is a great way of paying attention to something for a short period of time in a life or death situation. But we're trying to learn how to do it in a different way, in a caring way.” Sam’s advice? Start with bringing caring attention to 10 count breaths.
To learn more about Sam and Diabetes Sangha, click here.
Be sure to check out the full episode with Sam here or wherever you download your podcasts.
Click here if you are curious about Risely’s group coaching program for women with T1D.Click here if you are curious about Risely’s 1:1 coaching programs.