Positive Thinking and Diabetes Self-Management

Research has shown that positive thinking has both physical and mental health benefits. In this article, I discuss some of the challenges people with diabetes face in their daily self-management activities and how positive thinking may help. Nurses Stress 101 Knowledge


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Positive Thinking and Diabetes Self-Management

Last year, a primary care provider diagnosed my family member with type 2 diabetes. Now, he was no stranger to diabetes. He was a caregiver to his mother, who had type 1 diabetes and had some awareness of daily self-care activities required to keep her healthy. Still, this new diagnosis was distressing for him.

What followed the diagnosis was a series of trials of antidiabetic medications, education on glucose monitoring, and a challenging shift in his diet and exercise requirements. The immediate lifestyle changes left him frustrated most of the time.

Despite his best efforts at glycemic control, elevated blood sugar levels caused him the worst kind of stress. After a few tweaks to his medication, his blood glucose finally settled into his targeted range. With education, patience, and adherence to self-management, he felt physically and mentally better.

As a nurse, I've cared for persons with diabetes throughout my career. A concurrent illness or poorly controlled diabetes would land them in the hospital. I'm no diabetes educator, but I could often fill in their basic knowledge gaps and give emotional support. Although some people with diabetes work hard to manage their condition, the daily grind of self-management activities can cause fatigue and burnout.

To avoid diabetes distress, which is the overwhelm of diabetes self-management, I remind my family member to remain positive. Negative thinking does more harm than good and only adds fuel to the disappointment he feels when his blood glucose is off target.

When we suggest to someone with diabetes to think positively, the effort is easier said than done. Nevertheless, positive thinking can change a person's outlook about their health.

In the Johns Hopkins Medicine article, "The power of positive thinking", the author discusses health benefits of positive thinking1. Although the original research focused on patients with coronary artery disease2, I was curious to know which positive thinking attributes were useful to a person with diabetes. If you or a loved one are living with diabetes, consider exploring the many benefits of positive thinking. Better yet, try to practice positive thinking in your everyday life.

Positive Thinking

Positive thinking illuminates the good in any situation. Not to be confused with magical thinking, positive thinking means you don't ignore the bad. Instead, you approach life's challenges in a more constructive, helpful way. By doing so, you can improve your physical and mental health3.

A well-known benefit of positive thinking is better stress management. Other physical and mental health advantages include a longer life span, resistance to colds, better cardiovascular health, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression4. For someone with diabetes, managing stress and adapting healthy coping skills are beneficial, since poorly managed stress and coping leads to fluctuations in blood glucose levels.

Positive thinking and better stress management

We all have stress-inducing experiences. Good or bad, some of life's stressors are inevitable. While the acute stress response is automatic and sometimes necessary for survival, blood glucose levels increase. The release of the stress hormone cortisol causes the elevated blood sugar in the flight-or-fight response.

This is problematic for a person with diabetes. Stringent control of blood glucose is vital. Both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can lead to serious morbidity for someone with diabetes. Good glycemic control is vital to staying well.

Some stress is unavoidable, but with practice, we can manage the physical symptoms of stress. So how can positive thinking help manage our stress? Positive thinking helps us reframe our perspective. Instead of dwelling on the negative outcome of a situation, positive thinking helps us get rid of the negative talk and turn it into positive talk5.

By adapting positive thinking, you're open to taking actions that are proven to reduce stress. Activities such as exercise, meditation, focused breathing, or going for a walk can help us relieve stress.

Positive thinking and better coping skills

The ongoing daily self-management of diabetes can be burdensome. Persons with diabetes are prone to diabetes distress or overwhelmed by the unyielding responsibilities of diabetes. Self-care activities never end and take a toll on physical and emotional well-being. It is not uncommon to experience anxiety or even depression when you believe your health is not optimal.

Perhaps you have trouble maintaining your blood glucose, even though you've complied with everything your healthcare team told you. These uncomfortable emotions may urge you to look for ways to ease these feelings.

Some may think drinking alcohol, smoking, overeating, and drugs will squash the negative feeling. However, negative coping strategies are harmful and counterproductive to healthy living with diabetes.

Positive thinking reduces the negative self-talk and opens your mind to healthy coping strategies. You can cope better with meditation, engaging in hobbies, joining a support group, or even journal writing. Healthy coping improves your quality of life. Positive thinking promotes optimism and keeps you focused on doing activities that lead to better health.

How to practice positive thinking

The practice of positive thinking takes time, but anyone can do it. You first need to audit your self-talk:

  • Is it negative or positive?
  • Do you blame yourself for events outside of your control?
  • Do you focus only on negative comments and ignore or downplay positive ones?

Pay attention to your self-talk, especially if it's negative. Once you identify your negative self-talk, counter with positive talk. Positive talk leads to positive thinking6. Other important ways to add positive thinking to your life are to surround yourself with positive people, smile and laugh more, find areas in life you want to change.

Positive thinking is not magic—it won't cure my loved one's diabetes. At its heart, positive thinking is the practice of resilience and optimism. For a person with diabetes, some benefits, such as better stress management and healthy coping, can support diabetes self-management activities. By doing so, you boost your physical and mental well-being, which improves your quality of life7.

How do you practice positive thinking?


1 The power of positive thinking

2 Effect of positive well-being on incidence of symptomatic coronary artery disease

3What Is Positive Thinking?

4-7Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress

Kimberly Madison is an RN with over 12 years of experience in telemetry, acute rehabilitation, orthopedics, emergency medicine, trauma, pediatrics, quality, analytics, and performance improvement.

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