Living With Stress And Grief

We are living in unprecedented times, and diabetes doesn't give you a break. Take these steps to reduce stress and take care of you. 

What In The World?

Dear Friends. 

As all of you are quite well aware, we are living in unprecedented times. So much is happening so fast and changing daily. Even hourly. The original idea for this topic was about managing your diabetes (or other chronic health conditions for that matter) while going through grief and stress. At the time this topic was chosen a couple of months ago, I was personally going through a deep grieving period after the loss of my Mom, Auntie, Uncle and even my best friend. Those 4 months were some of the hardest times I’ve ever gone through. And I found it so challenging to navigate my own grief while trying to rein in my random, often chaotic and stressful diabetes. But it quickly became obvious that I had to pay extra attention to my diabetes as the last thing I needed was a health emergency in the middle of that nightmare. And soon, I found myself resentful that I couldn’t “grieve in peace” because my diabetes would often remind me, “Hey, I’m still here.” So my grief would then turn to stress. And when the thought would hit me that my diabetes wasn’t going to give me even a little break, my stress would often turn back to grief. It was back and forth. And it made me mad. 

When Stress Turns To Grief

If you’re like me, you’re very concerned, guarded and probably confused about COVID 19 and what happens next. There is so much left unknown. There is so much to learn and so much uncertainty. However, for me, this frightening pandemic situation we find ourselves in feels a bit familiar. Why? Because for those of us living with, (and constantly managing) a chronic health condition like diabetes, we often face all sorts of daily unknowns. And sometimes, we have to make unexpected life and death decisions with regard to our management and care. We roll the dice often and hope that the outcome will be the same as it was yesterday. Our mental health is affected by this constant reality and we can quickly feel burnout and stress on top of our daily lives. It’s grueling and tedious but it must be done in order for us to level our health playing field so to speak, so that we can better function and, in some cases, actually survive. And the stress this induces can also play cat and mouse with grief as our minds grapple with the realities of our lives. And it just keeps going and going...

The other day, I grabbed my suitcase with the intention of clearing out all the little things that accumulate over time…. the hotel soaps and shower caps, the discarded plane boarding pass, etc. As I was clearing these things out, I zipped open a side pocket and pulled out my stash of masks and gloves that I keep for travel during peak flu seasons. The regular flu can be very lethal for people like me and perhaps I’m over the top cautious, but during peak flu seasons every year, I take these extra precautions while traveling. I do this so that I can lessen the chance that I might have to add a bad case of the flu to my overall hectic diabetes life. 

There Is No Magic Button

As those of us with chronic conditions will tell others, there is no magic button that you can press to try to control what is happening right now. There is no easy way out. What we are now all facing is a situation that will be challenging and random on a good day. And we can also pretty much guarantee that it will shift often. You’ve heard the saying, “The only constant is change"? This has never been more relevant than now. And so, as I said before, everyone is now faced with managing a chronic, chaotic situation that is full of ambiguity…a feeling those of us with diabetes face every single day of our lives. Even if a person does not contract COVID 19, they have to be vigilant and very well aware of that possibility. This “on-edge” situation is extremely stress-inducing and after a while, some of that stress can turn to grief as a person begins to grieve for the loss of their familiar routine. 

Those of us who can still remember what it was like “before” our diabetes diagnosis understand that feeling all too well. You see, I was diagnosed as a young adult and I still remember my life before that time.

Some Quick Tips

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed or consumed by the unlimited details of managing my diabetes, I find it helps to break the issue down into segments, dealing with one "piece" at a time. It really does help me move through a challenging situation in a less frantic, more linear way. In short, I feel more in control of things, right or wrong. So, I take one thing that I can control and work it to the best outcome for my own well being and mental health. 

Clearly, everyone’s situation is different and what works for one person may not even begin to work for another. But I have a handful of things I do to help me feel less vulnerable with my situation. Some of this may be second nature to you but this might be a good refresher as you take a look at your own circumstances.

  1. Refill your prescriptions. Check your diabetes supplies and call your Physician’s office if you need refills, etc. Do not wait until the last minute to refill anything that you can fill now. This might help ease your anxiety about your diabetes and other healthcare back up supplies. Also, make sure you have ketone strips and any OTC medicinal items that you use.

  2. Change your homepage. I’m on my computer a lot and I always used to use a major news feed as my homepage. I noticed that my stomach would tighten up every single time that page loaded and I realized that I needed a different type of greeting when I hopped online. And I knew that if I needed to see the news, I would know where to find it. So, for my mental well-being, I changed my homepage to something that is fun and “light” to look at. That way I’m not immediately bombarded with disastrous headlines that I can’t do anything about. This very simple tip truly changed my overall stress level. It may sound kind of silly but I tell you, it works for me! 

  3. Meditation anyone? Many years ago, I wanted to begin to meditate but found it nearly impossible to quiet my mind and focus on anything other than the daily mundane routines of life. So, I discovered and began using guided imagery at first. Basically, guided imagery is an audio voice, (many times accompanied by music) that will help guide your breathing and mind. You don’t need to do anything but listen and follow along. Think of it as training wheels for learning how to meditate on your own. Personally? Meditation has and always will be a top priority for me. 

I leave you with one of my favorite sayings:

“You can’t calm the storm…

So, stop trying.

What you can do is calm yourself. 

The storm will pass.” 

  -Thich Nhat Hanh

Do your best, and on we go!

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