Self-Care Strategies for T1D
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Kristen Garland | Diabetes Educator | Registered Dietitian
December 4, 2020
Experts have identified 7 key areas of self-care proven to help support people in managing type 1 diabetes. These key strategies along with a few other tips and tricks that complement them are listed, below, to help support you in your self-care journey.
1. Build Balanced Meals. Making smart food choices and building a diabetes-friendly meal plan that includes a variety of foods will help make sure you get the right amounts of protein, fats, and carbohydrates to keep your blood sugars in target. Food is fuel for our body and provides us energy. Protein and fibre help to slow digestion and reduce the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugars. Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies and split the other half between lean sources of meats or plant-based proteins and whole grains and starches. Enjoying 3 balanced meals with 2 snacks each day will help to keep you feeling satisfied and reduce cravings or overindulging to help keep blood sugars in target range.
2. Get Moving. Physical activity helps to naturally lower your blood sugars. Find ways and make the effort to include at least 150 minutes of physical activity in your routine every week. Get active for at least 20 minutes a day and doing some resistance training with bands or using your own body weight 2-3 times each week. Exercise and activity also help to lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure, release stress and anxiety, and improve your mood. Being active keeps your blood glucose levels in check and your diabetes under better control.
3. Keep Track of Your Blood Sugars. Checking and recording your blood sugar readings can help you see patterns and provides you with the information you need to make decisions. These patterns can tell you how your diabetes care plan – diet, exercise, sleep and self-care - is working and what, if anything, needs to change.
4. Taking Your Medicine. Taking medication helps you manage your diabetes, reduces risk of complications and helps you feel better, overall. Your diabetes care team will tell you which medications and insulin is right for you. Make sure to take care of all your health issues – diabetes, blood pressure, heart, cholesterol, etc. –by taking prescribed medications regularly, and as directed by your health care team.
5. Knowledge is Power. Once is an incident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. Empower yourself by making sure you have enough reliable information to take more control over your diabetes management. Ask lots of questions and see out trustworthy information to learn more about T1D and how food, activity, sleep, stress and other lifestyle factors can impact your blood sugars, so that you can make more impactful decisions about your own care plan.
6. Beware of Burnout. Experiencing diabetes distress or burnout is common for people living with diabetes. Diabetes affects you physically and emotionally. The burden of self-management and stress of developing long-term complications is heavy. Acknowledging your feelings and emotions and understanding that they are a normal part of diabetes management helps you to reduce the negative impact on self-care.
7. Seek Out Support. Don’t hesitate to reach out when the weight of diabetes gets to be too much to bear. There are lots of online groups, videos, and forums that you can join to seek support, tips, tricks and ideas from other people with diabetes who are living happy, full lives. Consider registering for free workshops and webinars, signing up for diabetes conferences or joining a local support group where you can meet and interact with others who know and can relate to your daily challenges. Educate family and friends as to how they can best support you in your diabetes management. Encourage them to get you what you need when you’re low. Ask them not to judge me for your choices or words when you are low. Let them know you’d like them to keep your diabetes discrete if you don’t want everyone around you to know what’s going on.
Other tips and tips include:
BREATHE! Try to find ways to help you keep things in perspective.
Be kind to yourself – let go of high expectations, set realistic goals.
Take a diabetes break – relax your targets, reduce testing for a day or two.
Talk to friends and family that you trust.
Talk to your doctor; ask for a referral to a counselor / social worker.
Check out LMC's long list of varied resources.
Visit Diabetes Canada’s COVID-19 website.
Visit JDRF Canada’s COVID-19 website.
Join an online support forum.
Contact CAMH hotline for help.
While your healthcare team provides some support, self-care is a long-term commitment to avoiding health complications that most people take for granted and can often be overwhelming for people managing diabetes. Here’s some additional important strategies and considerations:
Sleep Well. Getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep every night can help to manage blood sugars. Sleep also helps you regulate mood and fatigue. Make your bedroom an inviting place by choosing comfortable bedding and pillows, using light-blocking curtains or a sleep mask, and limiting distractions when you’re going to sleep. Turn off the TV, put down the book and just relax until you drift off.
Remember ‘5-to-Drive’. Driving with Type 1 Diabetes requires extra care and consideration to ensure that the chronic complications of T1D don't get in the way of your ability to drive safely. People with type 1 diabetes should check their blood sugar immediately before driving to ensure they are 5 or above. If you’re heading out for a long-distance drive, check blood sugars at least every 4 hours. If you have a low blood sugar while driving, be sure to safely stop driving and treat your low as soon as you feel symptoms. You should always carry your blood sugar meter and low blood sugar supplies, keeping them within easy reach while driving, and wait at least 45 to 60 minutes after blood sugars are back in target range (>5.0mmol/L) before getting back on the road.
Drinking with Diabetes. Drinking too much can impair your ability to recognize and manage low blood sugars (hypoglycemia). The liver usually helps us regulate blood sugars by releasing glucose when needed. When we drink alcohol, the liver starts to concentrate on clearing alcohol from your bloodstream and forgets about its job to release glucose, which can often times lead to unexpected episodes of low blood sugar. Drinking can also impair judgment, so you may forget to check your blood sugars or have something to eat before going to bed to keep blood sugars stable overnight. Drinking alcohol can impact blood sugars for up to 24 hours after drinking, so it’s important to limit alcohol and keep a close eye when drinking to ensure your safety.
Eye Care. Over time, high blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels in your eyes. Maintaining good eye care by seeing your optometrist once a year can help catch early signs of retinopathy - a condition characterized by blurred vision or partial blindness caused by damage to blood vessels in the eye. Keep track of, and discuss any changes in your vision with your eye doctor, and ask them to send your test results to your endocrinologist after eery visit.
Fancy Your Feet. Diabetes impacts circulation, which can cause tingling and numbness in your feet and toes and may affect your balance. Having diabetes might also increase the risk of not feeling or noticing wounds on your feet that could become infected and lead to life-threatening consequences. It’s important to have a look at own feet daily for changes in skin or loss of feeling. You’re your feet daily with mild soap and warm water. Wear shoes and socks that fit comfortably. Make an appointment with a chiropodist to examine your feet once a year.
Take advantage of ALL the technology. There are new tools, pumps and CGMs coming to market. Talk to your healthcare team about getting yourself a continuous glucose monitor to help you collect and access even more blood sugar data or get you on an insulin pump system that works together with the CGM to help you keep blood sugars in target range and take some of the burden off your shoulders.
Celebrate the small victories! Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. Give yourself credit for:
nailing a bolus and/or waking up with a good number
getting in the exercise
achieving an amazing A1c
acing your eye exam
celebrating another ‘dia-versary’
correcting a super high without going low
learning to juggle; doesn’t have to be diabetes related
Give yourself permission to breathe. When things get hard, focus on what can be done TODAY. Take a break to recharge every once in a while. Pre-plan when you know you’ve got a special event coming up - “I’m gonna eat what I want this weekend.”, or go with the flow when it’s not planned - “My blood sugars just shot up and I have no idea why… I’ll try again tomorrow.” When the going gets tough, dance it out! Distract yourself in positive ways. Hang in there, things will get better!
Contact us for more information or support in helping educate, advocate or provide healthcare related to Type 1 Diabetes.