Published: 14 September, 2023 No matter what type of diabetes you have, whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for some time, trying to manage your physical and mental health can be a balancing act. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by your diabetes at times. And when this happens, it is hard to focus on anything else, especially your mental health. But your mental wellbeing is just as important. In fact, how you feel plays a big role in how you look after your diabetes. In this article, discover 7 practical tips you can start doing today to look after your mental health and your diabetes. 7 practical tips to look after your mental health and diabetes Living with diabetes can sometimes feel like an emotional rollercoaster, and it can be hard to know which way is up. But taking time to look after your mental wellbeing is one of the best things you can do for your diabetes. Remember, small changes done often add up to big changes overall. 1. Set realistic goals to look after your diabetes and celebrate when you achieve them Work with your diabetes health professionals to set realistic goals to look after your diabetes. Write down your goals and when you want to achieve them. It can also be helpful to break big goals into a series of smaller goals. This will help keep you motivated as you reach each goal. For example, your big goal may be to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink each month to half your usual intake. You could break this into four smaller goals and reduce your alcohol intake each week by half your usual intake. Make sure you celebrate when you reach your goals, no matter how small they may seem. 2. Have a strong support system around you Talking to someone about how you feel can reduce the emotional burden of looking after your diabetes on a day-to-day basis. Your support system can be anyone you want. It can be friends and family or even your health professional. Or you may find connecting with other people who have diabetes helpful. This is called peer support. Sharing lived experiences with others that have diabetes can help you feel understood and less alone. If you are interested in learning more about peer support, take a look at our Peer support fact sheet. If you would like to find a peer support group, visit our Peer support website, which has a directory of in-person and online peer support groups. 3. Make time to do physical activity that you enjoy Making time to do physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health (as well as your physical health). Physical activity can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. It can also increase your mood and help you sleep better. Choose activities that you enjoy — this will make it easier to keep doing it and make it part of your everyday routine. This can be walking, yoga, swimming, bike riding or playing golf. You can learn more about exercise and physical activity in our Physical activity fact sheet or by doing one of our Ready, set, go let’s move programs (available in both in-person and online group settings, or self-directed online). Before you begin any new physical activity, always talk with your doctor first. 4. Eat well most of the time Eating well most of the time means choosing a wide range of foods from each of the five food groups recommended by the Australian dietary guidelines1. It also means limiting sugar, salt, saturated fat and alcohol intake. Eating foods from the five recommended food groups gives you key nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals. It also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut. Recent research shows a link between your gut bacteria and how you feel and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.2 In fact, clinical guidelines for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression highlight eating well as a key component for prevention and management.3 For more information on eating well, have a look at these resources: Healthy food choices fact sheet has snack ideas and a sample meal plan using foods from the five recommended food groups. Healthy cooking videos have tips on how to build healthier meals. These videos are available in languages other than English. Register for one of our virtual programs including CarbSmart, ShopSmart or one of our topical webinars on eating well with diabetes. For more individualised advice, we recommend you speak to a dietitian. You can find a dietitian at dietitiansaustralia.org.au. 5. Practice mindfulness often Taking time out to practice mindfulness, such as breathing exercises, can help reduce stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Mindfulness is a state of being completely aware of yourself, your feelings and your surroundings. You can practice mindfulness in as little as 5 to 10 minutes. It can be done anywhere, at any time of the day. Practising mindfulness helps slow your heart rate and reduce stress hormone levels, which is also good for your blood glucose levels. Try this breathing exercise: Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Hold, then slowly breathe out through your mouth. As you breathe out, try to relax all the muscles in your body. Repeat for 10 breaths. Try practising mindfulness as part of your everyday routine. 6. Make sure you get enough sleep The amount of sleep you get each night directly affects your mood and ability to function during the day. Night-time sleep can often be interrupted when you have diabetes. If you wake often or struggle to fall asleep at night, try these tips: Try to get some sunshine each day. Natural light helps regulate your circadian rhythm (responsible for your sleep-wake cycle). Have a regular bedtime each night. The general recommendation for adults 18 to 64 years is between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.4 Make sure your room is dark and not too hot (experts suggest the ideal bedroom temperature for sleep is about 18 degrees Celsius).5 Avoid caffeine after midday. This is because caffeine takes a long time for your body to get rid of. Caffeine stops certain chemicals from working in the brain that support sleep. 7. Be kind to yourself and prioritise self-care Diabetes can be hard to manage, and there is never a perfect relationship between your effort and the outcome. Be kind to yourself, especially during difficult times. Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend — with patience and understanding. To help you be kind to yourself, prioritise self-care. Take time out to do the things that bring you joy. It could be reading a book, taking a bath, going fishing or spending time with friends. Additional resources How you feel plays a big role in how you look after your diabetes. It is normal to feel worried or overwhelmed at times, but if you feel you are struggling with your mental health, know you are not alone and there is help available. Below are some additional resources to help you support your mental wellbeing. Call the NDSS Helpline 1800 637 700 and ask to speak to a diabetes health professional for emotional support. Visit the NDSS Emotional health resource library to learn more about adjusting to life with diabetes, concerns about starting insulin, how a psychologist can support you, anxiety, depression, or disordered eating. Call Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or visit their website. Beyond Blue provides information and support for people with depression or anxiety or anyone going through a difficult time. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website. Lifeline offer 24-hour confidential phone and online crisis support. References 1. Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). (n.d) Australian dietary guidelines 1-5, Australian Government Health & Aged Care – Eat for Health website, accessed 1 September 2023. 2. Xion R-G, Li J, Cheng J, et al. (2023) ‘The Role of Gut Microbiota in Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Disorders as Well as the Protective Effects of Dietary Components’, Nutrients, 15(14), 3258, doi.org/10.3390/nu15143258. 3. Malhi G.S, Bell E, Bassett D, et al. (2021) ‘The 2020 Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists clinical practice guidelines for mood disorders’, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 55(1) 7-117, doi/10.1177/0004867420979353. 4. Sleep Health Foundation (2015) Sleep needs across the lifespan [PDF 103KB], Sleep Health Foundation, accessed 1 September 2023. 5. Pacheco D and Wright H (2023) The best temperature for sleep, Sleep Health Foundation website, accessed 2 September 2023.