Tapping into happiness
People living with a chronic medical condition such as type 1 or type 2 diabetes certainly have a lot to do each day to take care of themselves. But I believe that behind many people living with diabetes is a caregiver or support system, playing an important role in his or her care. It’s important for caregivers to acknowledge that supporting a loved one can be both mentally and physically draining, perhaps even overwhelming at times.
Why caregivers may need care too
Ginger Vieira, blogger, diabetes activist and author of the book Dealing with Diabetes Burnout, lives with type 1 diabetes herself and is a certified cognitive coach, so she’s seen a lot of caregiving up close. I spoke with her recently and she had some great suggestions for those who take on this important role.
Leighann Calentine (LC): Caregivers often take care of others before taking care of themselves. What are some ways that caregivers can take care of themselves?
Ginger Vieira (GV): Even if it’s only once a week, you’ve got to make time for you. Putting your needs behind everyone else’s really isn’t going to make you a stronger caregiver. Find one day to meet with a friend and walk or swim or play tennis or go to the movies or have a cup of coffee. Make it a ritual. Once a week. I think it’s good for you and for everyone you’re taking care of.
LC: And in that vein, in what ways can exercise help caregivers cope?
GV: We all know the potential benefits of exercise for overall health, but for me, I’ve found that the act of actually doing something good for yourself has an intangible impact on how you feel about yourself and the ability to take care of other people. Knowing that you’ve done something for yourself, that you’re taking good care of yourself can impact everyone around you. And most of all: going for a walk or lifting weights or yoga or any type of exercise may give your mind a chance to break free from your responsibilities and just think or be completely clear. It can happen whether you mean for it to or not! Always speak with your care team about getting started exercising.
LC: In what ways do you think that tracking your mood might help caregivers of people with diabetes?
GV: Diabetes is non-stop for both the person living with the disease and just as much for their caregiver, which means if they don’t take time to really acknowledge how they’re feeling at some point, it can just build and build and build. Even just a feeling of being exhausted can turn into something much worse if you don’t take time to acknowledge just how exhausted you are. By using an app available for your smartphone to track your mood, not only are you tracking patterns that might help you notice that you’ve been feeling a particular way more often lately, it also is one simple way of honoring and acknowledging your feelings. Sometimes that’s enough to help ease them a little bit. The simple mention in a mood-tracker of something like “Today, I’m feeling really angry at diabetes,” can be therapeutic all on its own.
Some app options
As Ginger suggests, a smartphone app may have some benefits for caregivers. There are many apps that can help caregivers take care of themselves and keep on track.
Mood tracking apps such as MyMoodTracker can help us identify patterns, such as having a bad day after not getting a good night’s sleep because diabetes management may have kept us up. It can also help us acknowledge triumphs or let us vent, as Ginger suggested.
Daily inspiration apps, such as Lift, might elevate your mood or help turn your day around. Similarly, gratitude journals can help us see that even with the hand that diabetes may have dealt to our family, there are also plenty of good things to be thankful for.
If you use exercise as a release and to keep yourself healthy, MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular fitness apps. Seeing your progress is motivation in itself.
Good old-fashioned to-do lists, calendars, and reminder apps can help you remember to order supplies and keep track of appointments so that you aren’t frustrated to find that you are out of supplies or that you have to frantically fill out log books before endocrinology appointments.
They always say to “put your own mask on first” before tending to others, but I know firsthand that caregivers (like me!) often put the needs of their loved ones ahead of their own. By taking time for yourself, acknowledging your moods and feelings and getting some physical activity in, caregivers may better cope with a life that includes diabetes and love.
Leighann Calentine is the author of the book Kids First, Diabetes Second and the website D-Mom Blog. She is married with two children – including a daughter with type 1 diabetes – has a graduate degree, and works for a major university doing research. Calentine is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience