Putting the Brakes on Diabetes Burnout

Diabetes burn out is a common problem for many people, but what is it? Basically this occurs when you grow very tired of managing your diabetes. You might experience feelings of exhaustion and instead of sticking to your regular blood glucose checks, medications, exercise, insulin and other self care tasks, you only do them partially or possibly neglect them altogether for a period of time. It is more than just having a bad day. You just can’t seem to muster the motivation to keep on managing  and the guilt and stress about what this is doing to your body just builds up…..adding to your distress.

The challenge for people living with diabetes and this includes family members and caregivers, is to walk the fine line between stress and worry about diabetes, with feeling comfortable about where diabetes sits in your life. You need to try and have perspective about what your goals are and what you can realistically manage at this moment. When you balance this you are able to better manage under times of stress and prevent burn out.

One of the biggest things that can help is to have good support. This includes from family, friends, other people with diabetes and your health care team. Exercise and relaxation strategies really help. Learning mindfulness, which teaches you to worry less and be present in your daily life helps to reduce anxiety and distress. Being able to feel in control and have a tool kit for what to do when things feel like they may be getting out of control in any aspect of your life really makes a difference. Diabetes is not just about your blood glucose and stress and problems in other areas of life will have an impact on you control. So it is important to make sure you stay healthy in all areas of your life and keep on top of stress.

Diabetes is different to other chronic disease as it requires self management by you on a daily even hourly basis, with guidance from your health care team. It can be easy to become overwhelmed by all the tasks you need to do and the day to day effort needed to manage. Burn out is particularly likely if you work really hard at managing your diabetes but the results are not what you would like. It is also more likely when you have pressure or stress in other areas of your life that you feel you can not control. Diabetes burn out can last a short time, be ongoing, or can come and go. Studies have shown that a majority of people living with diabetes do experience worries, fears and negative feelings at some stage. Some high risk times where you may experience burn out due to added stress or changes in your life include:

  1. If you are not meeting diabetes targets, frustration with lack of movement towards your health goals
  2. Experiencing family/relationship problems, breakdown or violence
  3. Transition or times of change in your life
  4. Loss of someone you care about or other grief/loss
  5. Experiencing poverty or homelessness
  6. Drug and alcohol problems
  7. Problems with work and financial stress
  8. Other physical or mental health problems – such as another chronic disease, depression, mental illness, eating disorders
  9. Pregnancy –  planning pregnancy and trying to conceive, during pregnancy and parenting when you have diabetes yourself
  10. Growing older and dealing with changes to your body, your health and your diabetes
  11. Diagnosis of diabetes complications
  • The recent 2011 study Diabetes MILES which surveyed over 3000 adults with diabetes in Australia found that overall, people were least satisfied with their health, as compared to other aspects of their life.
  • Adults with type 2 diabetes who were using insulin had lower levels of satisfaction across all life areas (e.g. health, relationships, safety, standard of living) as compared to adults with type 1 diabetes or with those who had type 2 diabetes but were not using insulin.
  • Adults with type 2 diabetes who were using insulin were also more likely to experience moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety than other respondents.
  • Moderate to severe depressive symptoms affected 35% of adults with type 2 on insulin, as compared to 22% of those with type 1 and 23% of those with type 2 who were not using insulin.
  • Moderate to severe anxiety symptoms also affected 19% of adults with type 2 who were using insulin, as compared to 15% of those with type 1 and 14% of those with type 2 non-insulin-managed diabetes.
  • Adults with type 1 diabetes were more likely to experience severe diabetes-related distress than other respondents. 28% of adults with type 1 diabetes experienced severe distress, as compared to 22% of people with type 2 insulin-managed and 17% of type 2 non insulin-managed diabetes.
  • The most commonly reported problem area for respondents (consistent across diabetes types and treatment regimens) was worrying about the future and the development of diabetes related complications.

Rates of diabetes related distress are high yet people are often scared to ask for help, particularly if they have not been managing well.

It is important that you DO ask for help and remember there is no such thing as a silly question! Most of us get tired of doing everyday tasks and diabetes sure adds to those! Few people can maintain all the tasks of diabetes care week-in, week-out AND keep blood glucose and HbA1c’s in the narrow target range all the time.

Without realistic expectations and practical strategies for managing the thoughts, feelings and emotional side of diabetes, the risk of burnout is higher.

  • The way ywe think and talk about diabetes has a major impact on how you feel and manage diabetes. Using words like “ high and low” blood glucose instead of “good and bad” can help and so does using CHECK instead of the word TEST when talking about blood glucose monitoring.
  • The reality is most people have an immediate reaction to a high or low BGL.
  • That is normal and fine, but once you have this reaction move on to looking at the number and working out how to manage this and prevent it in the future if possible.

Seven Steps to dealing with Burn out

  1. Consider what particular areas of diabetes are causing you problems – usually it is not all of it! Then develop steps for sorting these areas. Get help if needed.
  2. What else is happening in your life that might be conflicting with diabetes care, or making it harder?
  3. How might you address these things?
  4. What are your expectations for your diabetes management? Do you need to lower or increase your expectations?
  5. What sorts of thoughts and feelings are you having about diabetes/
  6. How are you managing these and are these strategies working? What have you tried?
  7. Do you have any support? Is it the right support? Is it enough support? If not, how can you get this?

Support is vital. Make sure you get this from a variety of sources:

  • Health Care Team
  • Family and friends
  • People with diabetes
  • Online and in person
  • Books, magazines and other sources of information
  • Counselling and other specialists
  • Take time out from diabetes and other stress – try to be a “human being” not always a “human doing”!

Diabetes might thrive on maths – to be corrected and added up BUT You are not a maths problem! See yourself as a sunset – not something to be solved, but appreciated –your achievements, attempts at change, dreams and goals – sit back and appreciate them from time to time and remember there is more to life than diabetes.



You can find our diabetes burn out book here and an online learning module in managing diabetes burn out and depression here.


  1. Andrew on February 4, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Support…pfft that’s a joke…great if you have friends and family for that…but what if you don’t …health care workers??? 80-90.% of workers I get don’t give support but more so are critical of everything that maybe I don’t do or probs I have…most diabetic workers don’t listen to my issues, but take a broad view overall, not an invidual view…getting the right info…I have been given conflicting info in many issues, with diabetic nurses disagreeing with diabetic doctors and then a ward nurse having a different view as well When I was first diagnosed 4 years ago when I was 38…I’m type 1…they couldn’t agree on how long I’d been type 1… Views ranged from a few months to all my life!!! I also know that when I was diagnosed and inquiring about support groups there was none for type 1 suffers that are adults for type 1 in NSW Australia Was plenty for type 2 suffers soo I attended one attached to my local hospital…I couldn’t believe the general arttitude of the group I was shunned cause I was type 1 and not type 2!!! People didn’t believe I was diabetic cause I was not obese like the other people in the group…soo I believe that in NSW Australia that the general attitude of Diabetes add greatly to ‘burn out’ sadly most of that attitude is associated with health care professionals in the public hospital system and until that changes all us diabetics will suffer…

    • Helen-Edwards on February 4, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Hi Andrew thanks for the honest comments. It is true that many people are not lucky to have family and friends support and there can be conflicting advice from health care professionals, which is very confusing and unhelpful. The lack of support for adults diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is also terrible.That is one of the reasons I started Diabetes Counselling Online back in 2001 – as I was looking for support and could not find it. We are lucky now to have many support options online which can help especially where there are no supports close by. I think you are right that attitudes generally of the community and some health care professionals and indeed the way they communicate with people with diabetes can add to distress.

  2. Maureen Grantham on February 4, 2013 at 9:03 am

    If you are T2 and eat low carb you become isolated. Family and friends will say eat it, once will not hurt, but it is not them that are up until midnight exercising or being ill the next day. So then you stop going to group meals which leads to loneliness and depression. We also have major problems in our retirement village with T2 males who do not manage their blood sugars well and are bad tempered, I sometimes feel like whipping my test kit out and suggesting they check their blood sugars, but I fear for my life And I agree with Andrew about conflicting comments from health professionals. My CDE used to tell me off and make me cry because he said I was not following my diet, I was following the diet the dietitian had given me, but I am very sensitive to carbs so am better eliminating most of them from my diet. Low GI does not really apply to diabetics. But then I would be really upset and go in to see the diabetic doctor expecting another scolding and he would say I was doing really well, managing my diabetes well! I gave up that ‘team’; it was not working for this member of the ‘team’. Poverty is another stressor and cause of depression. Not being able to eat food because of diabetes and not being able to afford a good variety of food because some of it is too expensive for a pensioner to buy is very limiting. Also I need to go out and about to ward off depression, but sometimes I just can’t afford to do so. I have had to give up so many group activities and am just forced to sit at home and try (but fail) to look on the bright side.

    • Helen-Edwards on February 4, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Maureen -it is amazing how often the “food police” come out when people know you have diabetes of any type! People who do not live with the daily roller coaster that is diabetes have no idea about what works for us who do. I know many people type 1 and type 2 who are moving towards a lower carb eating plan and finding it really helpful for both blood glucose and weight management.
      It is awful this has led to you stopping your social times with food….it is just not good enough to have a health care professional tell you off and make you cry. This is YOUR diabetes, not theirs and nobody should ever judge you or treat you this way. No wonder you did not go back! And you are the central person in the diabetes “team” as far as we are concerned. 🙂
      Yes poverty is a huge stressor for many people…and social connections are vital. Please feel free to contact us for some 1-1 support if you would like this support@diabetescounselling.com.au

      • Maureen Grantham on February 4, 2013 at 9:24 pm

        Thanks Helen, I am just coping at the moment. I got very low a while back and had some spiritual healing, sounds a bit whacky, but I was wandering about in the garden one day and thought how amazing it was that I was not depressed any more.
        I am sure you know this, but with all the research going on they are finding that there are many different types of T2 and I think T1. It is no wonder that one eating plan does not work for all of us.

        • Helen-Edwards on February 5, 2013 at 7:44 am

          it does not sound whacky 🙂 Being outside in the world is a great thing for depression.:-) Yes there are many types of diabetes and each of us is an individual within that, so there is no one size fits all

  3. Sharon on June 18, 2014 at 3:35 am

    Hi, for those of you on Facebook, come along to a group I have started ‘type 1 diabetic burnout support group’. Come and have a chat with other people who are going through the same thing, and offer support to others too 🙂