Living with diabetes is challenging and requires significant effort to manage the condition effectively. Along with following a healthy diet, monitoring blood sugar levels, and adhering to the prescribed medication therapy, self-care practices play a crucial role in diabetes management.
But what exactly is self-care in diabetes management, and why is it important?
What is Self-Care?
In general, self-care refers to the deliberate and proactive steps you may take to care for your physical, emotional, and mental health. When it comes to diabetes management, self-care means developing knowledge and awareness by learning to live with the complex nature of the condition. Practices include exercise, healthy eating, stress reduction techniques, and more frequent tracking of your blood sugar levels.
Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME)
First, you need to be trained on how to manage your type of diabetes best. You will definitely find a ton of helpful materials about your condition with a simple Google search. Still, you must be careful which source you trust – always check the credibility of the poster and never implement any therapy or make profound lifestyle changes without consulting your doctor. Depending on where you live, you can typically count on your medical team or different local non-profit organisations and NGOs for reliable education about diabetes, how to manage it and how to live with it. Some key topics covered in DSME programs include:
- Understanding the different types of diabetes and their effects on the body
- The importance of regular blood glucose monitoring and interpreting the results
- Developing a personalised meal plan based on individual needs and preferences
- The benefits of regular physical activity and how to incorporate it into daily routines
- Recognizing and managing the signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar levels
- Identifying and managing stress and other emotional issues related to diabetes
- Proper use of medications and insulin therapy, if applicable
These programs often include individualised assessments, goal setting, problem-solving, and ongoing support from qualified professionals.
Gaining a Better Overview of Blood Sugar Levels Over Time
Managing blood sugar levels is a crucial aspect of diabetes self-care. Regular blood glucose monitoring helps you understand how different factors, such as food, exercise, stress, and medications, affect them.
Using a diabetes management app is a very effective way to gain a better overview of blood sugar levels over time. Apps allow you to log blood glucose readings, meals, exercise, and medication intake, providing a comprehensive view of your diabetes management. Some apps also offer personalised insights, reminders, and support from healthcare professionals.
A study published in 2020(1) found that the use of mobile health apps was associated with significant improvements in glycemic control, with a reduction in HbA1c levels by an average of 0.57%, demonstrating the benefits of these apps for diabetes self-care.
By incorporating a diabetes management app like Diabetes:M into your self-care routine, you would better understand the relationship between your lifestyle choices and blood sugar levels, empowering you to make more informed decisions about your diabetes management plan. This proactive approach minimises the risk of complications associated with poorly managed diabetes, such as heart disease, kidney damage, nerve damage, and vision problems.
Physical self-care is essential for maintaining good health and managing diabetes effectively. Regular physical activity has numerous benefits for people with diabetes, including:
- Improved insulin sensitivity, which helps the body use insulin more effectively
- Lower blood sugar levels and better overall blood sugar control
- Increased energy and reduced fatigue
- Weight management, which reduces the risk of diabetes-related complications
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease
Experts recommend(3) at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week. Please consult your healthcare team before starting a new exercise regimen, as their advice will guide you in developing a safe and effective plan tailored to your needs and abilities.
Mental self-care involves taking care of your mental and emotional health. For people with diabetes, managing the condition is usually found to be stressful and emotionally challenging. Research(4)(5) shows that there is an increase in mental health problems for people with diabetes:
- Depression rates are increased by around 40%
- Anxiety rates are increased by approximately 20%
- One in 4 people with diabetes will have diabetes distress (specific anxiety or depression arising from their diabetes)
- Around 1 in 5 people with type 1 diabetes have eating disorders
- Poor glycemic control doubles the risk of psychiatric conditions
These statistics show that diabetes often leads to diabetes distress or even diabetes burnout, where both of which have a profoundly negative impact on your health. Some effective mental self-care strategies for people with diabetes include:
- Practicing mindfulness (e.g.Yoga, Journaling, Breathing Methods, Meditation etc.) to increase awareness and reduce stress
- Seeking professional help, such as counselling or therapy, to address emotional challenges related to diabetes
- Engaging in hobbies and activities that bring you joy and relaxation
- Building a solid support network of your family, friends, and fellow people with diabetes
- Prioritizing sleep and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule to promote mental and emotional well-being
These practices will help you manage the emotional and mental toll of living with the condition and improve your quality of life. This way, you build resilience and reduce stress and anxiety by prioritising your mental health.
Enriched Information for Your Healthcare Team
Your healthcare team plays a critical role in your diabetes management, but they can only help you as much as the information you provide them. Effective self-care practices give you valuable insights and data about your condition. On the other hand, it assists your healthcare team to make more informed decisions about your treatment plan.
By tracking your blood sugar levels, physical activity, food intake, and emotional well-being, you provide your healthcare team with a comprehensive understanding of your diabetes management. This information gives them the ability to identify areas for improvement, make adjustments to your medication regimen, and provide personalized guidance on self-care practices.
Strive to build self-care practices and do them on a daily basis as they help you manage your condition more effectively and improve your quality of life. It provides healthcare professionals with valuable information about your daily routines and habits, which reflects in developing personalized treatment plans and making more informed decisions about your therapy. Self-care practices also allow you to take control of your health and make positive changes to your lifestyle. Overall, self-care is a critical component of diabetes management and a necessary part of achieving better outcomes for people with diabetes.
- Bonoto BC, de Araújo VE, Godói IP, de Lemos LL, Godman B, Bennie M, Diniz LM, Junior AA. Efficacy of Mobile Apps to Support the Care of Patients With Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017 Mar 1;5(3):e4. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.6309. PMID: 28249834; PMCID: PMC5352856.
- El-Gayar O, Timsina P, Nawar N, Eid W. Mobile applications for diabetes self-management: status and potential. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2013 Jan 1;7(1):247-62. doi: 10.1177/193229681300700130. PMID: 23439183; PMCID: PMC3692239.
- American Diabetes Association; Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes. Diabetes Care 1 January 2004; 27 (suppl_1): s58–s62.
- Lin EH, Von Korff M, Alonso J, Angermeyer MC, Anthony J, Bromet E, Bruffaerts R, Gasquet I, de Girolamo G, Gureje O, Haro JM, Karam E, Lara C, Lee S, Levinson D, Ormel JH, Posada-Villa J, Scott K, Watanabe M, Williams D. Mental disorders among persons with diabetes–results from the World Mental Health Surveys. J Psychosom Res. 2008 Dec;65(6):571-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.06.007. Epub 2008 Oct 29. PMID: 19027447; PMCID: PMC3672403.
- Bădescu SV, Tătaru C, Kobylinska L, Georgescu EL, Zahiu DM, Zăgrean AM, Zăgrean L. The association between Diabetes mellitus and Depression. J Med Life. 2016 Apr-Jun;9(2):120-5. PMID: 27453739; PMCID: PMC4863499.