How to cope with diabetes caregiver blues.

Let’s start with the truth: caregiving can be tough!

Whether you are responsible for the care of a family member in the home, keeping watch from around the corner, or caregiving from a distance, diabetes caregivers have to accept significant added stresses and challenges as part of everyday life. It’s not surprising that these pressures sometimes pile up, leaving us feeling stressed or decidedly blue. Sometimes ‘feeling blue’ is just that: feeling low, down, discouraged, depleted. Sometimes ‘feeling blue’ is actually a clinical depression.  It is important to know the difference and only your doctor can tell you for sure.

Caregiver blues can have a negative effect on your health. If your family doctor has ruled out depression and together you have decided that taking better care of yourself is what is needed, then isn’t it interesting that the same principles of healthy living that you may be so concerned for your loved one to be following, also apply to you. The Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you‘ – needs to be turned around for there to be dependable caregiving. We could say ‘do unto yourself as you would do unto others‘.

Here are some tips to help you through occasional blue periods and to restore your energy and effectiveness:

  • Practice healthy living. Healthy eating and physical activity routines will help you feel better overall. Check out the Canada Food Guide for lots of good tips. You will also find many of the tips in our Diabetes Diet section apply for anyone who wants to live healthily. For example, a balanced diet that is low in fat and rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains is good for everyone, whether or not you have diabetes.
  • Physical activity is part of healthy living and also releases endorphins, which are sometimes known as the ‘feel-good’ hormones. Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity each week. This does not have to be daunting. Even with 20 minutes of brisk walking every day you can achieve this level of activity. You may want to check out our article Fitting physical activity into a working day.
  • Schedule “Me Time” into your routine. Trying to ‘snatch’ moments for yourself when the day allows is not a successful strategy! Instead, plan ahead and schedule periods of time that are strictly for you, whether for hobbies or for simply relaxing with a good book. Put yourself high on your ‘to-do’ list to make sure there IS time in the day for self-care.
  • Learn relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, visualization and other relaxation techniques can help to relieve stress and ease frustrations. Ask a member of the diabetes healthcare team for resources.
  • Ask for help. Sitting back and waiting for family and friends to offer the right sort of assistance may not bring results.  People are not mind-readers. They may not even be aware that you need some help. Taking time to think about what your worries are, and reflect on what you would really like to be happening, may help you clarify your own needs. Then assertively and specifically state exactly what you need. There are books that are very helpful in learning respectful and assertive communication and stay tuned for we have more ideas to share here.
  • Connect with others. Chat with friends in person, by phone or online. Join a support group. Share a laugh or express your frustrations with others who understand what you’re going through.  

When ‘the blues’ becomes depression

Although occasional blue periods are normal, be aware that prolonged sadness may indicate the onset of depression.

Depression is a treatable medical condition. Consult your healthcare practitioner if you experience any of the following for more than two weeks:

  • Sad, despairing mood that is present most days and lasts most of the day
  • Changed sleeping or eating habits
  • Loss of interest in work, hobbies, people or sex
  • Withdrawal from family members and friends
  • Persistent feelings of guilt
  • Crying easily or feeling like crying but not being able to
  • Thoughts of suicide

Taking care of yourself – ‘doing unto yourself as you would for your loved ones’ is one of the best preventions for caregiver burnout and depression. If you are feeling ‘blue’, it may be a signal that you haven’t been giving enough time and attention to your own health and well-being. In order to be the best caregiver and supporter of your partners, family and friends with diabetes, it is vitally important to take care of yourself.

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