Every day, I listen as people explain their day-to-day routines and lifestyles—lifestyles that often involve sedentary jobs, multiple jobs, long commutes, convenient foods, family caregiving, after-school sports, late-night television, etc. There is no doubt that our modern lifestyles present some challenges to eating well, exercising regularly and getting quality sleep.
For people with diabetes, the challenge can seem even greater. The additional self-care tasks, such as monitoring blood sugar, managing medications and going to healthcare appointments can manifest into a lengthy “to-do” list, making diabetes management feel like a chore and making a healthy lifestyle seem a little out of reach.
But there’s good news—it’s not. As a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist, I enjoy helping people find ways to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
One strategy for managing diabetes is to zero in on one or two health habits at a time. Bring some focus to a specific aspect of health or self-care and keep the focus on this process. It is okay to choose more than one habit to develop at a time but try to resist the urge to tackle everything at once.
Over time, new habits will become ingrained, and you can move on to the next behavior to nurture and develop. Below are a few habits that I think can have a big impact on your health and make living with diabetes a little easier in the long run.
1. Practice positive self-talk.
The human brain likes to focus on things we are not doing well. Start your day by reminding yourself of the self-care habits that you are doing well. When the negative thoughts arise during the day, gently replace those thoughts with positive thoughts.
For instance, if your brain likes to point out blood sugars that are out of target range, remind yourself that you are practicing good care by monitoring your blood sugar and communicating results with your healthcare team.
2. Start your day with a good night’s rest.
Sleep is restorative and studies indicate that blood sugar regulation can be improved when you have had a quality night of sleep. Commit to a calming evening routine and a reasonable bedtime. Allow for 7-9 hours of rest each night.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, consider factors that can help such as a cool room temperature, reduced noise and light, and avoiding television and other screens 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime.
3. Plan and prep one or two meals for the next day.
If you leave the house without a plan for nourishing yourself, the universe will respond with fast food. Try spending 10-15 minutes each evening prepping breakfast and lunch for the following day. This practice can save you time and help you make healthier choices for those meals.
Related: Your essential diabetes checklist
4. Consider continuous glucose monitoring (CGM).
Devices that monitor glucose continuously make glucose monitoring a breeze. These tools stand out as one of the most effective and useful technological advances in recent years. CGM is not for everyone and many insurance plans will only cover the costs of the device if specific criteria are met. But, if you are on insulin and take three or more shots per day, this device can really save time and also provide safety alerts.
5. Ask for help.
You may not need to ask for help on a daily basis, but ask yourself, “What do I need help with?” on a regular basis. Match someone else’s skills with a task that you find challenging. Maybe your spouse is good at organizing—ask them to help you organize your medications and supplies. Maybe you would move more if you had company—ask a friend to be your exercise buddy. Perhaps your teenager could help you upload your meter data to the healthcare portal.
When you identify your support group and ask for assistance, it can relieve your burden and give your family and friends a way to show they care.
6. Do something that makes you smile every day.
Life can be stressful. Stress can negatively impact blood sugar and can lead to a sense of overwhelm. Find time to relax and enjoy life, whether that is being with friends or family, taking a nice walk in the park, being kind to a stranger, listening to a fun podcast or signing out loud on your way to work. Make it a point to make yourself (and others) smile and remember the feeling of joy.
These are just a few ideas that could help make living with diabetes a little easier. Some health habits are easily adoptable while others are strangely elusive. The real challenge is to enjoy the process of building new habits and to be kind to yourself along the way.
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