When John R. was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2002, he was convinced the lab had made a mistake. He resented checking his blood sugar, refused to take notes in a diabetes education class and balked at the idea of reading nutrition labels on cans and packages of food.
When John, 58, accepted his condition, his life began to improve. "Once I got my head around the idea that I had diabetes, things turned around," he says.
He started eating better, learned about diabetes and resumed bicycling, once a passion. Three months later, he'd lost 50 pounds and was biking 15 to 20 miles every day. "Little successes lined up to make one big success and a healthier lifestyle," says John.
Perhaps most importantly, John learned that the occasional negative feeling need not sabotage his self-care. "I've had to accept that I'm only human and that sometimes things won't go according to my plans," John says, though he admits he still feels down sometimes about having diabetes. When such moments happen, he can look at how far he has come—and how much he truly enjoys life.
Optimism's Real Health Benefits
People with a positive attitude are more likely to take care of themselves and feel less stress. A negative attitude, on the other hand, can be harmful. Some experts suggest that chronic stress can raise blood pressure, increase insulin resistance and weaken your immune system.
A negative attitude may also contribute to depression, which may interfere with good self-care. You may feel less likely to exercise if you don’t see immediate benefits, and you may not feel like checking your blood sugar level if you’re certain it will be high. Feeling depressed or hopeless may also lead to self-medication through food, alcohol or tobacco. See your doctor to be screened for depression if you find yourself having persistent feelings of sadness, are unable to sleep, sleep too much or are thinking of suicide.
Keeping It Real
Don't mistake a positive attitude for naive optimism. Positive thinking means seeing strengths as well as weaknesses, and hopes as well as difficulties. The reality of diabetes may sometimes get you down, but a positive view may help smooth out the emotional lows and help you to enjoy the highs. Here's how:
Identify harmful or negative thoughts. Try writing down your negative thoughts and then replacing them with positive and realistic ones. For example: instead of believing that your blood sugar is always high, try to think of times when it is not high. Then write those exceptions down.
Learn more about diabetes. The more you know about diabetes, the more confident you're likely to feel about managing it.
Set small goals. Don't start out by overhauling your entire diet. Instead, try replacing your nightly ice cream with a no-sugar-added yogurt. Taking small steps toward a larger goal will likely reinforce positive thinking and build confidence.
Let go of setbacks. Despite diligent self-care efforts, you may still overindulge in sweets on occasion or sleep in instead of taking your usual morning walk. Don't beat yourself up. Move on, and plan to make positive choices at the next opportunity.
Seek support. Call on your family and your doctor for encouragement and positive reinforcement. You also may want to talk to a counselor or clergy person for an extra boost. Aim for a balance between diabetes and the rest of your life. Don't let diabetes be the sole focus of your energy and attention. Pursue other interests that have nothing to do with diabetes.
Express gratitude. Ina M. was devastated to find out three years ago that she had type 2 diabetes. Now, she says, "I start each morning with a prayer for the success of the new day and a prayer of thanks for what happened the day before." Expressing gratitude—in prayer, a journal or your thoughts—reinforces your positive attitude.