The term ‘self-care’ has become a somewhat of a buzzword these days. There are plenty of articles, memes, and graphics describing simple steps you can take for yourself to find a break from your hectic daily schedule—take a bubble bath, enjoy a piece of chocolate, create a daily gratitude journal. All of those things are nice, and potentially helpful, but they talk about self-care in terms that don’t take into account the reality of living with a chronic illness.
Sometimes self-care with diabetes is not so nice, neat, and simple: It means working a job that you don’t like, because it has health benefits that help pay for medical supplies. Or pushing through a doctor’s appointment you’ve been dreading, because you need a prescription renewed. Or waking up at 3 am to treat a low. Or testing your or your loved one’s blood glucose and administering insulin regularly, even though they take time out of your day and can be painful experiences.
The Oxford Dictionary describes self-care as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health,” but it also notes that it can be “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” The difficulty, then, in talking about self-care in the context of illness is that sometimes these two definitions seem diametrically opposed.
So how do we practice self-care in the context of diabetes then?
The answer is in finding a realistic balance between the two notions of self-care. Sometimes this balance can feel difficult, especially when diabetes is being loud, demanding, and not behaving as expected. Here’s a few pointers to get you started on cultivating a balance of self-care practices that work best for you:
Write it out.
Making a list of the things you do to manage your diabetes care and the things you do to de-stress can help you assess the fuller picture of all your self-care practices. You can even be creative with it. Consider drawing or using photos to create a poster of those self-care practices that you would like to be reminded of on a regular basis—either to incorporate into routine or for when you are having a bad day.
You are not going to do all of the self-care practices you set out to do all of the time. Sometimes other things will get in the way. If there are some core activities that you would like to do on a regular basis, circle those or keep them at the top of your list so they are most prominent. You may also want to set out a plan in advance of how to get back to your self-care practices for if and when you get sidetracked.
Diabetes is a complicated illness to self-manage. Even when you do everything ‘right’, things can still not work out how you expected or wanted. It can be easy to just blame yourself when things feel as though they are not going well. This can be discouraging and distract you from taking care of yourself. Regularly engaging in a mindfulness and/or self-compassion practice can help quiet your inner critic and get you back to your other self-care practices sooner.
If you would like more guidance on how to practice self-care download, Virtue's helpful guide below.