You’re going about your day-to-day business when out of the blue you feel a wave of boiling rage bubbling through your body and mind. A few moments ago, you were feeling positive and optimistic — now, it feels you’re drowning in pessimism and irritability. What’s going on?
As people with diabetes, we’re no strangers to mood swings. For many, this is being compounded by concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. In this article, I cover 3 psychological techniques that I use in my own practice to help people with diabetes thrive.
The First Step
First things first, check your blood sugars. Why? Fluctuating glucose levels can impact the brain, hormones, and nervous system in a way that wreaks havoc with your mood. In other words, your mood swing might be a sign that your sugars are running low or high.
What If My Sugar is Normal?
People with diabetes are more likely than most to experience changes in their mood, even if their sugars are normal at that moment. This is likely due to the fact that we have a whole range of unique stressors and worries that people who don’t live with a chronic condition aren’t aware of. What can you do?
Mentalization is a psychological phenomena that therapists all over the world are putting into practice with great success. Quite simply, Mentalization means thinking about one’s internal, emotional world. How can you use Mentalization to cope with mood swings?
The first step is to direct your focus inward and the second is to write down what you are feeling. Now, as people with diabetes, we’re no strangers to logging and recording sugar values to show our doctors. The Diabetes:M app, in fact, has a very cool feature that allows you to plot your own health information on a graph.
So, we’re already recording our sugars and medication input — why not add mood to the mix? By writing down any difficult emotions that you experience, you are training your mind to think deeply about your emotional state. Research also shows that this helps us to regulate difficult emotions. So, tap into your Mentalization skills today, by starting your own mood diary. You can use the notes in the Diabetes:M Logbook for that purpose. That way you have all your information in one place.
2. Practice Grounding
Grounding is a quick and easy technique that can be practiced just about anywhere. Start by bringing your attention to your feet. Notice the pressure between your toes and the ground on which they rest. Feel the weight of your body pressing down on the ground and notice how the earth supports you. If you like, lie down on the floor and pay attention to the physical sensation of being in touch with the ground.
Ultimately, grounding is about getting out of your head and anchoring yourself in the here and now. This is a great way to ease out of a mood swing. In particular, grounding is useful for people who are prone to feeling anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed.
3. Reframe Your Thoughts
Reframing involves temporarily swapping the lens through which you see the world. This is one of the central tools drawn upon by Cognitive Behavior Therapists (CBT). CBT is known to be highly effective in treating a wide range of mental health concerns, including diabetes-related emotional difficulties.
Anger. Stress. Fear. Shame. Sadness. Anxiety. People often interpret these as “negative” emotions that should not be felt at all. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All of these emotions are natural, even healthy. By telling ourselves that we shouldn’t be feeling them, we add an extra layer of guilt and helplessness to our situation. So, how can you reframe your thoughts about your mood swings?
- Remind yourself that it is ok to feel this way.
- Keep in mind that difficult emotions are not a sign of weakness, but an opportunity to build resilience.
- Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, without judgment.
- Know that this will pass.
Know When to Get Professional Help
Are your mood swings really severe? Are they interfering with your work or relationships? Do you have a family history of mental illness? If so, it may be worth having a check-up with a psychologist or psychiatrist who can assess you and get you some proper treatment if you need it.
Manage Your Moods, and Blood-Glucose Control Will Follow
Diabetes is a challenging condition to live with — and mood swings certainly don’t make it any easier. However, it is important to know that you can take control. There are tried and tested strategies available to help you cope with mood fluctuations, some of which we have covered here today. As soon as you start actively taking steps to manage your mood, you’ll find that your diabetes is a whole lot easier to manage as well.
Daniel Sher is a certified clinical psychologist practicing in Cape Town. He has lived with Type 1 diabetes for nearly 30 years. His professional interest involves working with diabetes (Type 1 and 2) to help people with the condition to thrive.
Wow. Everything you are saying is definitely accurate for every diabetic. I wish my Diabetes clinician was this astute…