Diabetes Care

An introduction to mindfulness for people with diabetes

Living with a chronic illness such as diabetes is never-ending. It can be especially frustrating when your blood sugar levels are fluctuating. During these times, you might have felt discouraged or disappointed, and it’s likely that you’ll encounter these same feelings in the future as you continue to live with diabetes.

We have all behaved in a certain fashion due to past life experiences. Our responses to these memories produce innate behaviours. As well, fantasizing about the future can produce thoughts and feelings and, therefore, behaviours. The ability to stay in the present can be difficult, and can force you to act out of old habits and fear instead of using current information to make decisions. This tendency to disconnect from what you are experiencing in the moment affects every aspect of your life, including living with diabetes. These past and future thoughts lead into the importance of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present and being aware of the responses of your body, mind and emotions to a particular situation. Mindfulness also involves being non-judgmental and trusting yourself to be patient about the process of change and your thoughts about living with diabetes.

You can’t change anything that has happened in the past – but you can learn from your experiences. As well, you can’t predict what the future holds – but you can prepare as much as possible for situations that will arise (such as having enough supplies and medication to manage your diabetes).

Staying in the present when taking blood glucose readings is extremely important in order to manage your thoughts, which can focus on good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. You might be thinking, “Why can’t I manage my diabetes better?” or “I will develop complications if my glucose readings do not improve.” These thoughts can lead to feelings of sadness and anxiety. It is your brain that has these thoughts, so it’s important that you take control over your brain in order to manage your life – and your diabetes – better.

By staying in the moment, and taking deep, slow breaths, you’ll begin to feel more relaxed. This process will enable you to be non-judgmental about your diabetes management. Managing this disease can be stressful and challenging, and you may feel sometimes that it is taking over your life. However, blood glucose levels can change for many reasons, including stress, illness, food and drink, medication, weather and exercise. You have probably found that you can practice the exact same diabetes management two days in a row, and have glucose levels that are different each day. As you learn not to judge every single setback – whether it’s unexplained high blood glucose levels, or not sticking to your healthy eating plan on a given day – your stress levels will decrease, and you’ll feel more relaxed.

When should you consider using mindfulness?

Being mindful is especially helpful in the following situations:

  • Taking medications
  • Taking blood glucose readings
  • Making food choices
  • Judging your diabetes management
  • Embracing blood glucose monitoring with an attitude of curiosity, instead of fear
  • Understanding why medications are an important part of diabetes
  • Being proactive at preventing the complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes
  • Experiencing the pleasures of eating foods you love without guilt or binging
  • Balancing life

What are some ways to incorporate mindfulness?

Techniques of mindfulness include:

  • Developing an awareness of how your body’s reactions are affected by your thoughts and emotions
  • Practicing “diaphragmatic breathing:” simply watch your breathing, as you slowly inhale and exhale, without manipulating it or forcing it to change, can teach you much about how you are feeling physically, emotionally and mentally in that moment
  • Doing simple yoga
  • Walking while meditating
  • Listening to music

As you continue to practice being mindful, you’ll become more able to stay in the present, and manage any negative thoughts and emotions that arise. This in turn can lead to positive behaviours and improved health.

For more information about mindfulness, and to learn about programs and workshops that are available, visit the Centre for Mindfulness Studies.

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