Managing Diabetes and Depression During the Holidays and Beyond
By Patricia Glasrud
Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, Optum New Mexico
Cases of diabetes have been on the rise in New Mexico, part of a trend occurring throughout the United States. In fact, the American Diabetes Association refers to the burden of diabetes in our state as an epidemic, with more than 12 percent of the population diagnosed as having it. An additional 36 percent of the state’s population have prediabetes, glucose levels higher than normal, but don’t know they have it.
Most people also aren’t aware that the condition can affect more than just your body. Those with diabetes are up to three times as likely to experience depression, and for as many as half of those individuals, depression goes undiagnosed. In addition, many find it more difficult to manage their diabetes during the winter months – especially during the holiday season.
Too often, holiday traditions involve unhealthful food choices. It’s no wonder that it can be a particularly challenging time for people who have diabetes. Strategies that can help you stick with your health goals can be as simple as eating before you attend an event, or taking your own snacks, or preparing a nutritious dish you can bring to share. Seeking healthier ways to prepare some of your favorite holiday classics is also an option. Sometimes substituting an ingredient or two can make a big difference in the overall nutritional quality of a recipe.
However, for those with diabetes, navigating the holidays isn’t just about what you eat and how it affects your body. Managing your mental and physical health go hand-in-hand. Though often filled with fun and festivities, the holidays can also be a lonely or stressful time for many people due to added demands and expectations. Mental health challenges, like untreated depression or added stress from the hectic holiday season, can have a negative effect on diabetes. Fortunately, the reverse is also true; improving mental health can have a positive effect on diabetes.
While depression affects everyone differently, recognizing its signs is a good step toward managing your mental health right along with your physical health. Some of the common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Fatigue, decreased energy, or feeling slowed down
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, waking early in the morning, or oversleeping
- Changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you experience any of these symptoms for two weeks or more, or if your symptoms are severe, be sure to seek medical attention. There are multiple options for the treatment of depression, but for all of them, the sooner help is sought, the more effective the treatment.
In addition to speaking with your primary care physician, there are resources you can consult for more information and support at no charge:
The Optum New Mexico Community Center is a free resource with information, classes, and programs to help people 55 and older learn about and manage diabetes, depression, and overall health and well-being. Monday Diabetes Education classes, which are led by me and Kathie Robinson, are available through December at no charge. Both of us are Optum NM registered dietitians and certified diabetes care and education specialists. Upcoming topics include Monitoring Diabetes for Health, Diabetes Medicines, Reducing Risk for Other Health Issues, Traveling with Diabetes, and Care During an Emergency. The Community Center is ideal for connecting with others and finding support both for patients and caregivers. Consult its calendar of classes and events at optum.com/nmcommunitycenters or call 505-254-6500.
For online help, the American Diabetes Association website, www.diabetes.org, has a wealth of information about living with diabetes — from both the physical and mental health perspectives. It is normal for people with diabetes to experience fluctuating emotions, from anger to anxiety, and from depression to denial. Those suffering from mental health challenges are encouraged to seek professional help when they are struggling. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. The opposite is true; it shows strength.
Finally, the New Mexico Department of Health Diabetes Prevention and Control Program provides self-management resources through its initiative, Paths to Health NM: Tools for Healthier Living. A range of relevant topics for managing diabetes is covered, including dealing with difficult emotions. You can find more information at www.pathstohealthnm.org or by calling its Wellness Referral Center at 505-850-0176.
Managing diabetes involves being diligent about your physical and mental health. Physical activity and healthful eating habits, for example, can help with both diabetes and depression. However, the best place to start is by talking with your doctor about the connection between diabetes and depression. A little knowledge can go a long way toward helping you live your healthiest, best life.
If you or someone you know have thoughts about suicide, seek help right away. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 — or go to the closest emergency room.
To reach a trained crisis counselor, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You may also chat at https://988lifeline.org.