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University of South Florida

Celebrating and Surviving the Holidays with Diabetes Distress

Seasoned diabetes warriors – Type 1 (T1D) and Type 2 (T2D) alike – experience diabetes distress and burnout at this time of year. And for those who are newly diagnosed with diabetes, do not despair: merriment, food and drink can still be enjoyed.

Dr. Laura Smith, licensed psychologist at the USF Health Diabetes and Endocrinology Center, said simple adjustments to the strategic routines all diabetics rely on will help you enjoy the fun, but also ensure a happy and safe holiday.

“Holidays often bring such enjoyable, meaningful moments,” Dr. Smith said. “However, they also bring busy schedules, rushed time with family and friends, and gatherings planned around food – all of which can lead to challenges as people with diabetes enjoy the positive aspects of the season while maintaining a focus on their diabetes.”

What affects diabetes, everything! Most everyone is familiar with the fact that food, carb counting especially, is essential to maintaining good health. Did you know that sleep, stress and emotional wellbeing also contribute?

Diabetes distress is real and could negatively impact the enjoyment of the season. Fine tuning the coping mechanisms we use to keep pace in daily life can help with inevitable change in diet and lifestyle during this time of year.

Dr. Smith offers the following helpful approaches:

Don’t Eat That….

Most T1Ds and T12Ds will tell you that, at one point or another, someone has snatched food out of their hands while shouting out “Don’t eat that.” The myth that diabetics cannot eat certain food is simply not true.
Eating certain foods in moderation and meal planning allow for the pleasure of indulging in all the holiday goodies. A little research into recipes and ingredient substitutions goes a long way for enjoying healthy options and guilt-free holiday feasts. Being able to enjoy a meal with family and friends and sharing the same dishes make for a successful celebration.

Yes, a Cocktail is Allowed

If you would like to enjoy an occasional cocktail during the holiday festivities the American Diabetes Association recommends that T1Ds and T2Ds follow the same guidelines set for those without diabetes.

The guidelines include:

  • 1 drink per day for women
  • No more than 2 drinks for men

Beverage guideline for 1 drink:

  • One 12 oz. beer
  • One 5oz. glass of wine
  • 1 ½ oz. distilled spirit (vodka, whisky, gin etc.)

Be sure to eat when a having an alcoholic drink and educate your family and friends on what to do in case of an emergency, as alcohol can cause blood sugars to drop and cause hypoglycemia. The effects of alcohol can also mimic hypoglycemia.

Holiday Madness and Sadness

As we approach the holiday season, we look forward to frivolity with family and friends, but some of us approach the season with trepidation and sadness. The holidays have a way of evoking countless emotions that, in turn, provoke stress, and magnify diabetes distress. Stress and emotional highs and lows can trigger changes in glucose levels, causing them to become erratic.

“It’s very common for stress to occur as we get caught up in the busy holiday season,” Dr. Smith said. “To minimize stress, be aware or ‘mindful’ that it’s likely and plan ahead for it. Decide in advance how you will approach stressful periods, use stress management techniques, get help and support from those around you, and build in time for yourself.”

Putting some coping mechanisms in place before the onset of the holidays will help keep you healthy and happy during the season.

Learning to relax, and coping with stress is easier said than done, but there are some small changes that are easy to implement and create a positive impact almost immediately. Such as:

• Exercise, which helps to improve mind and body. Taking a short walk in the morning or after dinner can have a transformative effect.
• Mediation and breathing exercises improve relaxations skills and produce instant relief.
• Reestablish new thought processes. When a bad thought pops into your head, try replacing it with a good thought, prayer, poem or song.
• Change up your routine. Try something new to lift your spirits and keep your mind and body occupied, like a new hobby, or volunteering.
• Get enough sleep.

Happy Holidays!

Written by Ercilia Colón.

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