WRITTEN BY: GINGER VIEIRA
There’s no doubt that your blood sugar plays a huge role in how you feel both physically and mentally. Anyone with “normal” blood sugar levels can certainly experience mood swings, depression, and anxiety. People with any type of diabetes, however, have a whole extra set of variables that can affect our mood, both hour-by-hour or long-term over the course of months or years.
From mild stress and anxiety to severe depression, diabetes can play a role.
*If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for support: 1-800-273-8255.
Here, we’ll look at the most common ways diabetes can impact your mood.
Anyone taking insulin is at risk of experiencing low blood sugar — and the mood swings that come with it. And any low blood sugar can feel scary, regardless of how frequent or severe it may be. Even if the impact on your mood is mild, it’s impossible to avoid.
If you’re experiencing lows often, it could leave you feeling terrified, overwhelmed, and anxiety-ridden on a daily basis. If your insulin doses aren’t matched well with your body’s needs, frequent and unpredictable lows can wreak havoc on your mood even when you’re not low.
Worrying about the next low and the frustration you might feel because you’re afraid of activities that might cause lows can be all-consuming.
During a low blood sugar, you might feel any combination of the most common changes it can have on your mood, including:
- Overwhelmed with anxiety
- Like you are drunk
- And more!
In fact, low blood sugars could be easily dismissed as a panic attack if you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, yet. (And yes, low blood sugars can be an early symptom of Type 2 diabetes!)
Depending on what you’re doing when a low blood sugar strikes, the impact it has on your mood may be very different. For example, going low when you are juggling two small children might leave you feeling irritable and panicking while going low when you’re exercising may leave you completely exhausted and depressed.
If you’re experiencing frequent lows, talk to your healthcare team! This is a clear sign that you’re getting too much insulin and need your doses adjusted ASAP.
Also, always always always carry fast-acting carbohydrates with you and an emergency glucagon treatment to help you prevent or manage severe hypoglycemia.
The way high blood sugars affect your mood can be much more subtle or sneaky than with lows. High blood sugars also don’t usually come with that sudden feeling of emergency or panic because they aren’t immediately life-threatening like lows.
Instead, high blood sugars might leave you feeling:
- Irritable and cranky
- Lacking enthusiasm for daily activities
- Feeling “under the weather”
While the high blood sugar may have crept up slowly, the symptoms of frustration or anger can still feel very sudden, leading to a sudden mood-swing, too.
Sometimes a brisk walk and a tall glass of water can help bring high blood sugar down a bit, but sometimes it may mean your medications need to be adjusted.
If you are experiencing frequent high blood sugars, talk to your healthcare team! This is a clear sign that your body needs more help keeping your blood sugars in a safe and healthy range.
It’s no surprise that diabetes and mental health struggles go hand-in-hand. Look at what you deal with as a person with this disease — how could it not impact your mood on a day-to-day basis?
- Blood sugar fluctuations
- Constant fear of hypoglycemia
- Stigma and judgment from others
- High-maintenance medications
- Constant fear and threat of complications
- Managing diabetes technology
- Constant attention to food & exercise
- Constant attention to weight-management
- Managing existing complications
- The financial burden of affording meds and supplies
- Constant healthcare appointments
- And much more!
These are just the parts of diabetes we can put easily into words. There’s so much more to living with this disease that can wear on your daily mental health, your resilience, and your tolerance for stress.
The National Institute of Health describes anxiety as feeling intensely worried about something that might happen or something you feel you can’t control. Anyone can feel moments of anxiety throughout their life, but when that anxiety starts to impact your day-to-day activity and is consuming more hours of your day than not, it may qualify as a “generalized anxiety disorder” (GAD).
The anxiety that comes with type 1 diabetes could easily stem from a huge number of variables that we juggle every day. Type 1 diabetes is often about trying to control those variables so you can predict your blood sugar more easily, and if so few things in life are easy to control, it can easily lead to a constant anxiety-ridden battle.
People with type 1 diabetes may experience anxiety that isn’t related to their diabetes but significantly impacts it.
Research in Australia in 2016 determined that young people with type 1 diabetes had significantly more difficulty keeping blood sugars in a safe and healthy range while struggling with anxiety and depression.
Dealing with anxiety on top of diabetes is important because it could help with the daily demands of diabetes management, too.
Like anxiety, everyone goes through rougher phases of life or smaller periods of depression, but you know your depression has become more significant when it’s starting to affect how you care for your diabetes, how you show up in other parts of your life — like your work, with your friends and family — and your overall enthusiasm to be alive.
In diabetes, depression can also look like burnout — which means your depression is mostly focused on diabetes management, not other parts of life outside of diabetes.
Of course, higher blood sugar levels also increase general feelings of depression, a lack of energy, and a lack of enthusiasm for the usual joys of life, which only exacerbates anxiety further.
Fortunately, there’s a great deal of research starting to focus on how significant the impact of diabetes is on mental health, and greater efforts are being made to screen people of all ages with type 1 diabetes for mental health struggles more frequently.
While depression can feel impossible to tackle, especially when it’s about something that isn’t temporary — like diabetes — you do not have to struggle alone.
Here are just a few of the many resources to help you manage and hopefully reduce the amount of anxiety or depression you feel on a day-to-day basis.
- Talk to your healthcare team about how you feel and potential medications, therapy, and testing for other conditions — like hypothyroid — that can cause anxiety-like symptoms.
- Connect with other people who have diabetes through the BT1 community or TuDiabetes.
- Tell your closest friends or family that you’re struggling, and let them support you! Asking for help is harder, but it’s even harder if the people who love you most don’t know you need it.
- Start a new hobby. Whether it’s going for a walk with your coworker every day at lunch or joining a book club, find something new that you enjoy and look forward to!
- Listen to supportive podcasts like The Diabetes Psychologist.
- Read books on diabetes burnout
If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for support: 1-800-273-8255.