Stress associated with managing diabetes as well as concerns about potential side effects can all contribute to changes in mood. In addition, the actual highs and lows of blood sugar levels may also cause nervousness, anxiety, and confusion.
It is important for people to recognize their own individual symptoms of high or low blood sugar. They must also ensure they seek support for any concerning mental health symptoms they might experience.
Watching these mood swings can often be difficult for friends and family to understand. However, learning why a person may experience mood changes related to diabetes and being supportive can help to promote a stronger, healthier relationship.
Diabetes and mood swings
Managing diabetes can be stressful and fluctuating blood sugar levels may contribute to mood swings.
Diabetes can have many effects on a person's mood. For example, managing diabetes can be stressful. A person may be constantly worried about their blood sugar and whether it is too high or too low.
Adjustments to their diet and constantly checking their blood sugar can also add to a person's stress and enjoyment of life. As a result, they are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety and depression.
Blood sugar swings can cause rapid changes in a person's mood, such as making them sad and irritable. This is especially true during hypoglycemic episodes, where blood sugar levels dip lower than 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
When a person's blood sugar returns to more normal ranges, these symptoms often go away. In fact, changes in mood and mental status can be one of the first signs that someone's blood sugar levels are not where they should be.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the mental symptoms associated with low blood sugar levels may include:
- feeling confused
- feeling anxious
- having difficulty making decisions
Symptoms that indicate a person may have high blood sugar levels include:
- difficulty thinking clearly and quickly
- feeling nervous
- feeling tired or having low energy
Having diabetes can also cause a mental health condition called diabetes distress. This condition shares some elements of depression, anxiety, and stress.
While a person may not have symptoms severe enough for a doctor to diagnose them with a more severe mental illness, these symptoms can affect the quality of life for a person with diabetes.
An estimated 33 to 50 percent of people with diabetes experience diabetes distress at some point during the course of their disease. The sources of distress can include the responsibilities of managing the condition to worrying about potential complications.
Effect of diabetes on mental health
People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for experiencing depression.
People with depression often struggle to find the motivation to practice healthful living or do the activities they once enjoyed.
Depression is a serious mental health condition that can cause a person to feel hopeless about life, have low bouts of energy, and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. In very severe cases, depression can cause a person to feel as if life is not worth living and even contemplate suicide.
A diabetes diagnosis can also add to a person's experience with depression. For example, a person who struggles with depression often lacks motivation and energy to engage in healthful behaviors. This could include healthful eating or exercising regularly.
If depression affects a person's ability to think clearly, they may also have difficulty managing their diabetes. This may mean that they are more prone to blood sugar swings, which could worsen their symptoms as a result.
According to an article published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, having a condition such as depression or anxiety along with diabetes can increase a person's likelihood of having the following complications:
- difficulty following a diabetes treatment plan
- higher A1C levels
- higher rates of hospitalization due to diabetes complications
- increased amount of emergency room visits
- increased costs for medical care
However, according to the journal, an estimated 45 percent of cases of people with mental illness and diabetes go undetected. If a person with diabetes thinks that they may be struggling with a mental health condition, it is important they seek medical care.
Managing diabetes requires a fine balance that should not affect a person's enjoyment of their everyday life. However, it does mean they may need to make more healthful choices whenever possible.
Examples of healthful habits that can help a person living with diabetes include:
- Keeping to a routine meal schedule whenever possible. A person can usually manage their blood sugar levels more easily if they eat at regular times of the day and do not vary their portions sizes excessively.
- Exercising regularly. Exercise can be a mood lifter as well as help a person maintain a healthy weight. However, those with diabetes should check their blood sugar levels before and after exercise, particularly intense exercise.
- Taking medicines on time. Taking medicines at the same time every day and regularly checking blood sugar to ensure the levels are within their ideal range, can help people regulate their blood sugar levels and their moods.
- Making small changes and not expecting dramatic results. An example could be setting a goal of eating one more serving of vegetables in a week or drinking more water. Small, achievable goals can promote a sense of personal accomplishment while improving a person's overall sense of health.
- Enrolling in a diabetes self-management program. These programs focus on helping a person learn healthful behaviors that can help them maintain a healthy weight and better blood sugar control.
- Having a strong support network. Those who may not have the time or desire to participate in a support group can benefit from reaching out to loved ones and sharing their concerns and fears. Having a strong support system can help a person face the challenges of having diabetes.
A person may benefit from "preventive" mental health visits where they share their concerns and fears about their condition, even if they are not necessarily having symptoms of a mental health disorder. These visits can help reduce the effects of diabetes distress.
Tips for helping someone cope
Learning about diabetes is one of the main ways people can help those in their lives with diabetes. Understanding why a person with diabetes may experience mood swings, anxieties and fears related to their condition is important.
Being a strong support and good listener for friends with diabetes can make a big difference to promote emotional well-being.
Some of the ways a person can help people they know with diabetes include:
- Asking them about their diabetes. Questions to ask may include: "What can I do to make living with diabetes easier for you?"
- Offering to join them on healthful activities. Examples could include taking a class on cooking healthful foods or going on a walk together.
- Asking if they would like company on a doctor's visit or other aspect of healthcare maintenance. Even offering to write down questions for a future doctor's visit can help.
- Emphasizing readiness to listen if the person with diabetes should want to talk or share their concerns.
Supporting and talking to someone with diabetes can go a long way in helping them through the mood swings, anxieties, and fears related to their condition.
When to see a doctor
A person should seek immediate medical attention or call 911 if they or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts or is thinking of harming themselves.
Friends and family should also help the person seek emergency medical attention if they are experiencing signs of confusion, where they may not know who or where they are. This could be a sign of extremely high blood sugar levels known as diabetic ketoacidosis.
There are other symptoms that require a trip to a person's primary care doctor or psychiatrist. These include:
- experiencing physical problems a person cannot explain, such as headaches or back pain
- feeling sad or hopeless most of the time
- loss of interest in activities a person once enjoyed
People with diabetes may also benefit from reviewing their current medications with their doctor to see if any medications they are taking could be contributing to diabetes distress or affecting blood sugar control.
Medications are also available to help treat depression and anxiety related to a person's diabetes.