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Anxiety and diabetes

anxiety and diabetes
Thoughtful blonde woman with a mess in her head

It’s natural for everyone to feel anxious or worried at times. A moderate amount of anxiety can be a motivator to get a project done or respond to a dangerous situation. However, when people feel anxious without reason, or have continual worries or fears to the extent that it disrupts their daily life, they may have an anxiety disorder.

Living with diabetes can cause a person to feel fearful and anxious about a lot of things, including the risks of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and the development of complications. These fears can affect a person’s daily life, and it they’re not managed may lead to an anxiety disorder.

Diabetes Canada reports that an estimated 14% of people with diabetes have generalized anxiety disorder, and as many as 40% of people have some anxiety symptoms.

Physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Restlessness
  • Feeling of being tense or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and impatience
  • Being easily distracted
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shakiness


Fears of the following situations

Hypoglycemia can leave a person feeling sweaty, weak, shaky, light-headed and confused. Hypoglycemic episodes can be aggravating, embarrassing, exhausting and frightening. They can occur at the worst possible times, for example, in the middle of an important business meeting, during a class, or while driving. The fear that a hypoglycemia episode will occur over and over again can greatly affect a person’s qualify of life and may lead to anxiety disorder.

Family members too feel worried and anxious about their loved one who is experiencing hypoglycemia. These worries can lead to arguments, and the family living situation can become stressful and uncomfortable.

can result in a decrease in cognition, executive function and performance, causing a person to become forgetful and unable to concentrate. Severe hyperglycemia can lead to diabetes ketoacidosis and hospitalization. The effects of hyperglycemia can affect a person’s daily activities, causing worry and anxiety.

: Even though a person is managing their diabetes well, they may still worry about developing complications. The fear of “what if” or “what may” happen in the future can cause intense feelings of fear and foreboding.

Lack of financial coverage for medication
can result in worries and anxieties.


Strategies for coping with anxiety

1. A number of diabetes management tools are available to help you detect the warning signs and signals of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, including:

  • Continuous glucose monitoring systems
  • Flashing glucose monitoring systems
  • Testing blood sugar more often
  • Carrying a source of fast-acting glucose at all times
  • Learn about new management tools: talk with your diabetes healthcare team about any new developments that might help you cope with lows and high

2. Managing anxiety through psychotherapy has proven benefits, and there are a few types of therapies that are quite useful, including:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps manage thoughts
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction, which helps to stay in the moment

Combining cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction is the best approach. This combination of therapies help a person to relax and evaluate if their anxious thoughts are true or not. Sometimes, anti-anxiety medications can also be prescribed, in conjunction with psychotherapy.

3. Talk with your diabetes healthcare team about any financial assistance programs that may be available to help you offset the costs of your diabetes medications and devices.

Diabetes management is difficult for everyone. Feeling anxious is natural and anxiety disorders are common. However, there are tools available to help you manage your anxiety. There are also supportive and understanding healthcare professionals, including psychotherapists, who understand the difficulties you’re facing and help you deal with them.

About Cheryl Harris-Taylor

Cheryl Harris-Taylor BSW, MSW, RSW is a social worker at Tridec at Women’s College Hospital. During her time in this position, she has become very involved in the psychosocial and behavioral issues of diabetes, helping a diverse population cope and adjust their lifestyle to be able to manage their diabetes. Ms. Harris-Taylor received her Masters of Clinical Social Work degree from the University of Calgary. After graduating, she worked in Calgary in Child Welfare and then moved to the Netherlands where she established her own private practice. Five years ago, she and her family moved to Toronto where she started work in hospital settings, first in psychiatry, then in the prenatal department, and later working with seniors, advocating for better services. Ms. Harris-Taylor enjoys challenges and stimulation in her life. One specific accomplishment was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2009.