How to overcome T1D-related anxiety

June 8, 2023

Did you know that depression and anxiety symptoms are twice as prevalent among people with type 1 diabetes than people without diabetes?

Between 20 and 40% of people living with T1D experience…

  • Feelings of powerlessness and overwhelm due to daily management demands
  • Fear of low blood sugars
  • Worries about future health

AND, research shows, “prolonged significant diabetes distress is associated with depressed mood and elevated A1c.” [American Diabetes Association]

If you struggle with anxiety related to your diabetes, you are not alone.

Dr. Elana Dumont a T1D and New York state-licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children and teens dealing with mood and anxiety disorders, came on the Reclaim Your Rise podcast to talk about navigating diabetes-related stress and anxiety.

Dr. Dumont gives explains that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the concept that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all connected to each other, like a trifecta.

Here’s an example Dr. Dumont uses:

"Let's say starting with anxiety, which would be the feeling. How do we feel when we're anxious? We could feel racy and we feel stressed and tense… a stomach ache, a headache, whatever it is that you feel physically and emotionally.

When you're experiencing anxiety, a thought that might go along with that, such as 'I'm terrible at taking care of my diabetes' or 'this number means that I'm going to have complications because of my diabetes in the long run.' These [are the] very negative thought patterns that we see that come along with anxiety.

And what's the result of that thought? Sometimes it can end up leading to further disengagement with your management, right? So maybe even worse blood sugar numbers.”

So we can see how a negative thought, feeling, or action creates further negative ripple effects.

BUT - when we harness the power of CBT, we can break the negative spiral.

As Dr. Dumont explains, “You can start with changing one. And then the other two will kind of follow and it doesn't even really matter which one - it's preference sometimes. It's easier for me to work towards changing the thought, which will then affect a feeling and a behavior.”

She continues, “Let's say we take the thought and change it to ‘I'm having a bad number [today], but that doesn't mean the rest of my day needs to be like this. It doesn't mean my A1C at my next doctor's appointment is going to be impacted by this one day.’ That, in turn, will likely relieve some of the tension that we're feeling and hopefully lead to behaviors that are aligned with better blood sugars.“

Another example you might be able to relate to starts with changing your actions first. Think about those times when you really don’t want to exercise.

Action: Choosing not to exercise

Feeling: Tired, unmotivated, lethargic

Thought: “I’m lazy”, “this is hard”, “I can’t stick with anything.”

BUT, when you get up and take a walk or move your body for just 5 minutes… all of a sudden you… FEEL better and more energized, and you’re thinking more positively and clearly. All because you took action.

And, as Dr. Dumont says, remember that “it's valid to have these feelings and these thoughts. It totally makes sense. And I think before even attempting to change any of them, you have to give yourself that break, but to then also understand that there is strong connection between these three things.”

This post is intended to provide a tool for you to use to understand the cycles you are stuck in and work towards disrupting them, however, if you are struggling with anxiety and depression, you should seek professional support.