Challenges in Managing Diabetes When Living with OCD
Numerous challenges arise in managing diabetes when living with OCD. Diabetes brings many difficulties to someone’s life. OCD also brings many difficulties. Having to live with and manage both can create problems for someone living with these illnesses ("Diabetes and Mental Health: How One Affects the Other "). An inability to properly manage diabetes can create serious health and quality-of-life issues.
How OCD Makes Managing Diabetes Challenging
Diabetes requires constant monitoring. Blood sugar must be watched multiple times per day to ensure that it’s at the proper level—too much blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and too little blood sugar (hypoglycemia) both pose immediate and long-term health risks. This is anxiety-provoking and stressful for nearly everyone. For those with OCD, it can feel overwhelming and out-of-control ("Diabetes and OCD: Obsessing Over Your Blood Sugar Levels").
Some reasons why OCD makes it hard to manage diabetes include:
- The thought processes and brain activity in OCD create the perpetual feeling that something is off. This causes extreme agitation, and the imagination goes wild as obsessive worries and what-ifs take over the thoughts of someone with OCD. What if my blood sugar drops too low and I go into a coma and can’t wake up? What if my blood sugar is too high but I don’t know it because the readings are off? Worries about health disasters become obsessions that consume time and energy.
- Managing diabetes is largely about managing numbers. Blood sugar levels must be measured so they are properly treated to stay in the right range. Food and nutrition, amount of exercise, amount of insulin needed at any given moment—these are a few things that must be monitored. In OCD, monitoring escalates into obsessing. The obsessions can lead to poor choices such as over-monitoring or taking too much insulin to overcompensate for a high blood sugar reading.
- Often, for those with OCD, diabetes management consumes a great number of their thoughts and behaviors because it centers around the need for tight control. Having “good” blood sugar readings, for example, isn’t enough. Obsessive thoughts about the need for perfect readings drive people to compulsively check their blood sugar levels so often that it interferes in other aspects of their lives.
- Diabetes management can become excessively burdensome with OCD. Recording readings like blood sugar levels and the amount of insulin taken is common in diabetes management. For someone with OCD, record keeping can consume a great deal of time and energy. Someone might check their blood sugar levels fifty times a day and record each reading in a special chart. They will likely chart other things, too, often anything related to the body and its functioning, to watch for problems to address. Life can become largely about the data and charts.
- Having obsessions about controlling all aspects of diabetes and health is incredibly stressful. Trying to perfectly control diabetes can increase stress, which in turn negatively affects diabetes and causes blood sugar fluctuations. These spikes and drops cause more anxiety and obsessions. OCD and diabetes can negatively impact each other in a vicious circle.
Rising to the Challenge of Living with Diabetes and OCD
Diabetes and OCD can indeed influence each other and cause great difficulty. The fact that both are permanent illnesses without cures (at least not yet) increases frustration and hopelessness. How can someone learn to properly manage both diabetes and OCD when they are having difficulty managing just one of them alone? It can feel very discouraging, but there is hope. You can learn to manage OCD and diabetes.
An important first step is to develop your perspective on the illnesses and your health and wellbeing. If you’re obsessing over diabetes management, believing you need complete control over your blood sugar 100 percent of the time, ask yourself why. Why do you want such control? What is your end game?
Many people state that they value their health, that they want to be healthy. Why? They want to enjoy life. If this is you, the next question to ask yourself is important: Are you living the quality, healthy life you want by obsessing and compulsively checking blood sugar and other aspects of diabetes?
If your answer to that is a resounding no, and you want to shift to health and happiness, you now have a new perspective to lead you into treatment.
Working with your doctor and a therapist who understands diabetes can be very beneficial in changing your obsessive thoughts and improving diabetes management. Cognitive behavior therapy is often helpful in managing OCD. You’ll learn to notice obsessions and compulsions, understand that you don’t have to believe them or act on them, and replace them with thoughts that lead to better diabetes management and better life management.
If you have OCD and diabetes, you’re not doomed to a life of struggle. You can learn to manage both and increase the quality of your life.
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). Challenges in Managing Diabetes When Living with OCD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/challenges-in-managing-diabetes-when-living-with-ocd