Dealing with Emotions Associated with Diabetes

Content by: NCES, Inc.

Dietitians often deal with emotional patients who suffer from diabetes. Newly diagnosed patients or patients dealing with this disease for many years often experience stress and anxiety in daily management. Difficult patients can test your compassion, communication skills and patience.

Dealing with Emotions Associated with Diabetes


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It is important to learn how to recognize the early signs of a patient who is going to have behavioral issues associated with diabetes. It's helpful to base your education on strategies to target individual challenges a person is experiencing, even when emotions enter the coaching session.

Use these five steps in approaching patients with persistent behavioral challenges.

#1 Remain calm! It is important to remember the patient is not angry or sad at you, personally. It's an emotional response to the diagnosis of the disease. In fact, it has changed their life in very disappointing ways. Remaining calm will allow you to keep control and address the patient in a way that will make them feel calm and open to the education that you will be providing them.

#2 Engage in conversation. By using the patient’s name, maintaining eye contact, and speaking softly, you can try to draw out how the patient is feeling. Show the patient you care and want to help. Even if the patient is speaking negatively to you, it is important to make sure you avoid certain language as a response. Phrases such as, “Let me explain...” or “May I suggest?” may be helpful. Gauge their readiness to change by asking them what behaviors they are willing to modify or give up.

#3 Be empathetic. Acknowledge that managing diabetes is a lot of work, in fact, it often feels like a full-time job. Recognize and appreciate how hard the client must work to cope with their diagnosis.

#4 Ask how you can help. If you have a difficult person who is resistant to change, offer your help. For example, you may be able to offer valuable resources such as a grocery list or a weekly meal plan to help ease them into a new lifestyle. Offer to help them set up a blood sugar log and a reminder notification on their phone to check their blood sugars every day. It's important for diabetics to feel supported as they adapt to a new lifestyle.

#5 Make Recommendations. You’re not the diabetes police, and you don’t want to make your patients feel like a criminal, when he or she doesn’t “obey”. You can make suggestions or recommendations, but make sure you maintain an education role. Help your client or patient to feel comfortable coming to you with questions is important.

Following these five steps will help you keep the communication lines open between you and your patients, and will over time help your patients feel comfortable with their diagnosis. Overtime, you are key in helping them start to understand the importance of managing this disease.

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