Diabetes Distress, Coping and Thriving

When the onset of type 1 diabetes occurs, there may be confusion and denial. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can mask themselves as a multitude of other things, and the discomfort, weakness and fatigue are often explained away as the flu or a passing cold.

The denial is often fueled by the fear that something could be dangerously wrong with your child (or yourself), which keeps many from immediately seeking answers.

“Most people with type 1 diabetes do not have anyone in their family with the condition, and so the diagnosis often comes as a shock. Although it can initially seem overwhelming, diabetes education and support from the medical team can help patients and their families learn how to manage diabetes and live healthy, normal lives,” said Dr. Laura Smith, Pyschologist at the USF Diabetes and Endocrinology Center.

The Onset

Recognizing the symptoms of type 1 diabetes early and seeking treatment as soon as possible leads to fewer complications.

Symptoms of the onset of diabetes can include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Mood swings and unexplained irritability
  • Unexplained Weight loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme hunger

Learning to Live An Optimistic Life with Diabetes

Learning or relearning what is healthy is part of the process. Adjustments to your everyday routine include testing blood sugar levels, taking medications, meal timing, scheduling doctor appointments, etc. Being prepared for anything and everything is all part of the lifestyle.

As you begin to live your new “normal,” diabetes distress can occur and may affect your emotional, mental and physical health. It also can be felt by your family or people closest to you. Diabetes distress and burnout can happen periodically because diabetes management is every day, all day, with no reprieve.

The best way to combat this distress is to empower yourself with resources, including counseling. Be your own best advocate. Create awareness, educate your family, friends, school or workplace, and know your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Taking care of a chronic condition is hard work. Sometimes even when people with diabetes are trying their best, managing their diabetes may not go as well as they would like.  That can be very frustrating and can cause diabetes distress or burnout,” Dr. Smith said. “Patients who are experiencing diabetes distress should talk to their diabetes care provider about how to make their diabetes routine work best for them. It can also be helpful to speak with a psychologist or therapist about these types of challenges.”

Diabetes Families

Diabetes is often referred to as an “invisible disease”, because it is not always apparent to the naked eye, and is often misunderstood, which can lead to loneliness and depression.  Being part of a diabetes community such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, the Children with Diabetes organization, or attending the Florida Camp for Children and Youth with Diabetes can make all the difference.

Connecting with a diabetes community enhances quality of life. Life skills and lessons can be learned from others who have been living with diabetes.  Understanding and compassion are the best medicine when dealing with diabetes distress.

“Talking with others affected by diabetes can be tremendously helpful for people experiencing diabetes distress or depression.  It helps to know that you’re not alone and that others with the condition struggle at times too. The USF Health Diabetes and Endocrinology Center has resources to help you, such as education classes and an adolescent support groups. We can also help in connecting you with other community resources for diabetes,” Dr. Smith said.

Know The Difference: Juvenile Diabetes and Type 1 Diabetes

There is no difference between Type 1 and Juvenile Diabetes.  In the past, type 1 was referred to as juvenile diabetes, and was primarily diagnosed in children. Type 1 diabetes, once considered a childhood disease, can be developed at any age.  If diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is important to discuss your risk factors for type 1 with your doctor to determine the correct diagnosis.

Risk factors:

  • Having a siblings or parents with type 1 increases the odds of developing the disease.
  • Genetics also play a role.

The USF Health Diabetes and Endocrinology Center participates in TrailNet, a clinical network investigating the causes and outcomes of type 1 diabetes, to help find ways to prevent or delay this chronic condition.

Type 1 vs. Type 2

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas and it ceases to produce insulin.  Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose (sugar) to enter the body cells and produce energy, and keep our metabolism going. Metabolism is the way we convert food into energy.  Without insulin the body cannot turn glucose into energy, and without an energy source, the body will begin to malfunction, and eventually lead to death.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes insulin resistant as a result of the body not being able to respond correctly to the insulin produced. When insulin resistance happens, the pancreas goes into overdrive to keep up with the demand, and blood sugars rise. High blood sugars are harmful to the body and can lead to complications such as heart disease and vision loss.


To book and an appointment at the USF Health Diabetes and Endocrinology Center, please call (813) 974-2201.


USF Health Making Life Better


Written by Ercilia Colón

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