Learning to manage the emotional effects of living with diabetes can help to elevate diabetes distress, new research has shown.

The burden and worry that comes with living with diabetes is referred to as diabetes distress, with around three-quarters of people with type 1 diabetes experiencing diabetes distress.

Crucially, diabetes distress can lead to poor management of the condition, which could include people missing their medication, higher glucose levels, more frequent episodes of low blood glucose – hypoglycaemia – and poorer quality of life.

This means it is important that people with diabetes distress find ways to overcome these feelings, with one expert involved in this latest research saying: “If you don’t address the emotional part of living with the illness, you don’t do well.”

The study involved three group programmes – one concentrated on educating participants about diabetes and the management of the condition; the second looked at the emotional effects of having diabetes; the third combined the two approaches.

While all three helped participants to lower their diabetes distress and reduce their blood glucose levels, the programme which focussed on emotions, called TunedIn, was the best at reducing diabetes distress compared to other methods which have been studied. This programme also resulted in the most consistent benefits.

First author Danielle Hessler Jones said: “Most patients with diabetes have never heard of diabetes distress or been asked about it, and don’t understand that it can be alleviated. Knowing virtual group-based programs are effective presents an opportunity to change that.”

TunedIn uses elements of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps to develop an awareness of how painful emotions and thoughts can lead to behaviour that is counterproductive to diabetes management. This strategy has been successful in the management of other chronic diseases.

Professor Jones explained: “Providing individuals with type 1 diabetes with opportunities to recognise and observe these processes, and to ‘stand beside them,’ may enable them to make different choices, choices that can have positive impacts on their health and well-being.”

The results from the research showed that half of those who used TunedIn for a year no longer experienced diabetes distress, compared to 27% of those who accessed the education programme and 31% who received a combination of the two programmes.

Co-author Umesh Masharani, a professor of endocrinology, said: “If you don’t address the emotional part of living with the illness, you don’t do well. It’s important that clinicians are trained on how to have these conversations with their patients with diabetes as part of normal care.”

Read more in Diabetes Care.

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