Reframing negative thoughts when you’re feeling jealous or envious can reduce your risk for depression and improve your diabetes management.Thinkstock
When Dorine Harris, now 40, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2012, she went through a range of emotions, including depression and anger.
“I stayed at home a lot because I felt very restricted with foods to eat and drink,” says Harris, a client service manager in North Brunswick, New Jersey. “I did not want to answer the infamous question: ‘Can you have that?’” She felt alienated and frustrated that other people with seemingly unhealthier habits or higher body weights had so far been spared from a diabetes diagnosis.
Why It’s Common to Feel Jealous or Envious After a Diabetes Diagnosis
Among people with diabetes, Harris isn’t alone in having these feelings of envy and jealousy. “It’s actually a very common response, and natural,” says Ninoska Peterson, PhD, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who did not treat Harris. “There may be a sense of ‘why me,’ especially for someone who doesn’t seem to have particular risk factors,” like obesity, a family history of diabetes, or a history of gestational diabetes, she explains.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, all the lifelong changes — from dietary restrictions and maintaining an exercise regimen to checking blood sugar and taking medications — may feel daunting, Dr. Peterson says. These sentiments combined can lead to feelings of jealousy and envy toward others.
Considering Mental Health When Managing Diabetes
But overcoming negative feelings is crucial for several reasons, not the least of being that doing so will reduce the risk for depression, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes is a common comorbidity with diabetes. By some estimates, having diabetes may increase your risk for depression twofold, according to a review published in June 2014 in Current Diabetes Reports.
“The relationship between type 2 diabetes and depression is bidirectional and complex,” Peterson explains. Biologically, that may be because depression and diabetes are both associated with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can exacerbate depression symptoms and increase insulin resistance, which is the hallmark of diabetes, Peterson explains. Another common underlying thread may be poor self-care — like inactivity or unhealthy eating habits — that can contribute to both diseases, she says.
Of course, emotional hurdles may manifest differently from person to person, says Michelle Riba, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Instead of feeling jealous and envious, you may feel anxious, worried, or scared — but the advice is the same: Preventing and treating mental health issues should be a priority in your diabetes management plan. Doing so can ultimately help you manage diabetes better and help you get back to a semblance of the life you knew prediagnosis.
Research supports the importance of tending to mental health when you have a chronic disease. According to a review of 22 studies, published in January 2012 in Psychosomatics, markers of emotional well-being such as a positive mood and resilience are linked with better diabetes self-management and overall health. And a later review, published in December 2014 in the World Journal of Diabetes, found that the psychological health of people with diabetes can play a crucial role in how they manage their disease.
Peterson agrees, noting that people who tend to be successful in managing their physical and mental health are able to take control in a variety of ways, by figuring out what the diagnosis means for their life, making positive changes in diet and medication, and managing stress, she says. “They have or seek out positive support from family, friends, religious communities, and their healthcare providers,” Peterson explains. “Most important, they are ready and willing to make changes if necessary.”
Tips for Overcoming Jealousy and Envy With Diabetes
Get your friends and family on board. Managing diabetes is a family affair, and in truth, a diabetes diet and lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle for everyone. If friends and family are on board with your new way of life, either by supporting you or adopting new, healthier habits themselves, they’ll be less likely to, say, suggest a food or activity that isn’t diabetes-friendly. Ultimately, this courtesy can help suppress any current or future feelings of jealousy or envy.
Ask your doctor about mental health resources. Find out what resources are available to you, like support groups or community educational courses, Riba says. Peterson agrees, noting that you can start by asking your primary care physician for guidance, or call your insurance company to see what services are covered in your network. As the aforementioned research suggests, helping prevent or manage mental illness can put you in a better state of mind, helping you enjoy the things you once loved in moderation.
Recognize that self-care comes in various forms. That includes diet, exercise, attending appointments regularly, checking your blood sugar regularly, and taking your medication, Peterson says. All those little steps are under your control and can make a significant difference in your health.
Reframe negative or unhelpful thoughts. You don’t always have to dismiss your fears or look on the bright side, but focusing on what you can change and accepting what you can’t may help instill in you a sense of control, Peterson says. For instance, you may worry that your diagnosis means one day you’ll have to go on dialysis or will lose your eyesight. But if you understand how positive management of your physical and mental health can help reduce these complications, you will be motivated to make healthy changes, rather than obsess over potential negative consequences.
Practice acceptance. “One of the things that we talk about with our patients is acceptance,” says Peterson, noting that this milestone doesn’t always happen immediately and doesn’t mean that you have to like what’s happening. However, with acceptance, you’ll come to learn how you can manage the diagnosis day to day — and get on with your life.
Realize no one is perfect. “All you can do is your best, and gather the resources that can help you succeed long term,” Peterson says.
For Harris, meeting with a diabetes specialist — in her case, an endocrinologist — who understood her needs marked a turning point in her health. She hoped to minimize her number of prescription medications, so he helped her figure out how to eat the right foods to achieve that goal. Having a plan helped her feel purposeful and motivated, thereby minimizing her feelings of frustration and helplessness.
“Once I found foods to eat and exercises to do that I enjoy, managing diabetes became easier and my attitude changed,” Harris explains. While it took some time for her to accept her diagnosis, she now has a more positive outlook on her diabetes management. Instead of feeling envious of others who don’t have diabetes, she points out there’s nothing wrong with her — joking with friends that she’s simply “too sweet.”