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Mindset Matters: Talking Motivation in Diabetes Management

by Chloe Kaelberer

February 2024

In Mercer County, almost 700 people live with diabetes, according to national public health experts. Given that there are so many with the condition, most of the county's 8,000-plus residents probably know someone who has diabetes. Because it's so common, for both those who have it and those who don't, information on diabetes might come in handy.

Healthcare providers often call diabetes a chronic disease because it's a condition without a cure. Improved treatments allow people with diabetes to live longer, healthier lives, even just compared to a few decades ago. But those treatment plans come at a cost: time, attention, and energy. Daily meal planning, carbohydrate counting, and checking-and-rechecking blood sugars can get to be too much. Other chores may include taking medications, refilling prescriptions, and keeping up with necessary medical appointments. Sometimes, people with diabetes get to the point where they feel burned out: just too tired to keep doing the things today that keep them healthy for the years ahead.

How can diabetes burn-out itself be treated or, when possible, avoided? How does someone living with diabetes find the strength to run a marathon they never signed up for? Getting to the nitty-gritty: Here are some tips to stay in the race.

First, remember not to make perfect the enemy of good. Perfection is not the goal. Next, remember that baby steps aren't just for infants. Small steps mean setting realistic goals, as opposed to aiming for perfection. For example, people with diabetes often follow a test called an A1c that tells them how often their sugar is in the goal range. If the goal is an A1c below 7%, aiming for “lower than my last” might be a more realistic goal. For some, setting a specific, measurable goal, like “0.5% lower than my last A1c” helps. Most importantly, remember that an A1c higher than the goal, but lower than before, is a win.

When people run into trouble meeting health goals, it can be important to pay attention to what's being said during self-talk, that conversation people have with themselves that no one else can hear. Changing the way the mind sees diabetes-related tasks and goals helps disarm the “inner perfectionist” and motivate positive change. This is often referred to as a mindset change: taking those really judge-y thoughts and replacing them with more kind and self-compassionate thoughts. For example, instead of “I'll never get my sugar under control” or “I shouldn't have eaten that;” better self-talk might look like “A meal with less carbs might work a little better today,” or “A quick walk might be good right now” could enhance a healthy mindset.

Sometimes another mindset change needed by people with diabetes – and works well for those with other chronic conditions – is to avoid isolating themselves and get comfortable leaning on friends and family. Loved ones can provide support, helping with both the emotional and physical demands of managing diabetes.

Help can also come from diabetes support groups, where victories are celebrated, and hardships commiserated with others dealing with the same struggles. Healthcare providers can offer suggestions for local support groups as well as safe and helpful internet resources.

Diabetes management is a marathon, so it's important to find ways to fit diabetes management into life and not fit life into diabetes management. Through realistic goal setting, a positive mindset, and support from loved ones and community resources, people with diabetes can find the motivation needed to stay on track and sustain their health journey for the long run.

About the Author

Chloe Kaelberer is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. As a participant in the patient care experiences offered in the communities of Beulah and Hazen, Kaelberer also chose to participate in the Targeted Rural Health Education program, or TRHE. The program focuses on teaching student doctors the importance of rural newspapers as a way to share health information with rural community members. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.