Prioritizing your mental health while managing diabetes and heart disease

Mature African-American women exercising

Chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes take more than just a physical toll.

Keeping up with doctor appointments, health numbers—glucose numbers, blood pressure numbers, weight and others—and making multiple decisions per day about meals and medications bring a unique mental burden for people who are managing both diabetes and heart disease.

Feeling overwhelmed “is not something that represents any kind of a failing,” said Jeffrey Gonzalez, professor of psychology at Yeshiva University and professor of medicine, epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “It’s normal to be stressed about it and it’s not something that you have to hold back from health care providers. It comes with the territory.”

Gonzalez recommended that patients talk with their health care team about their feelings.

And, if appropriate, address signs of depression. Gonzalez noted that it can negatively impact quality of life and the ability to work, be productive and enjoy time with friends and family.

Kelly Close, founder of The diaTribe Foundation, a nonprofit diabetes advocacy organization, said that diabetes and heart disease can impact mental well-being even in people who aren’t clinically depressed.

Close said new medical advances, such as continuous glucose monitoring, can help some people manage the myriad daily decisions someone must make when living with diabetes. The wearable devices provide feedback about how meals, exercise and medication impact blood glucose (also called blood sugar) on a continuous basis. “We like thinking about what we can do in managing diabetes,” Close said.

Other things you can do, she says, are getting enough sleep, increasing physical activity and eating an appropriate diet.

Tips for managing type 2 diabetes-related stress

Movement: For mind and body

While aerobic exercise that gets the heart pumping appears to produce the most endorphins, the hormone associated with the so-called runner’s high, even light-intensity exercise is associated with well-being. Those activities might include taking a walk around the block, using the stairs instead of the elevator or gardening.

Eating for whole body wellness

Observational studies suggest that eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein sources such as fish appears to be associated with a reduced risk of depression as compared to diets high in processed foods and sugar. Lean proteins are part of a heart-healthy diet as well, so this is a win-win for your overall health.

Sleep

There are mental and emotional benefits of getting good sleep. Sleep deprivation is linked to negative mood and irritability. A stable mood is helpful when you’re making health decisions.

In addition to the mental health benefits of better sleep research has shown that people with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease or stroke could have additional health problems if they sleep less than six hours per night.

Support

Both the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association offer online support groups and communities. Research shows that people with social support tend to stick with healthy lifestyle habits more so than those without such support.