We are living longer but not better. We have more years in our lives but less life (and love and laughter) in our years. You’ve heard it before: it’s our style of living that’s the problem.
Lifestyle diseases, like type 2 Diabetes, are commonly caused by bad habits such as substance abuse, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating in the context of a stressful life. The good news is, whatever habits we have learned we can unlearn and style our lives to suit the healthy future we want. Even if your chronic condition is not lifestyle-related, you can live more fully and learn to thrive.
Cultivating these 4 characteristics will set you up for life:
1. Self –efficacy
This is the sense of power or control we feel we have over ourselves.
Do you find yourself constantly saying “I can’t do that” or “My Diabetes won’t let me”?
When you have a chronic condition you may begin to believe it is the cause of all your problems and the reason behind your every limitation. This is your clue that you have transferred power/control from your self to it. You may even have allowed it to define you: Do you tell people “I am a diabetic” or “I have diabetes”?
If you’re honest, do you have diabetes or does it have you? You can’t manage something you believe is unmanageable.
Apart from the condition itself, you may feel controlled by others in your life – your nagging spouse, your worried children or your frustrated healthcare practitioner. Do you always feel like you will get in trouble when you visit your Doctor? Do you usually leave appointments feeling afraid or guilty? Your answers to these questions reveal your self-efficacy and determine your capacity for self-management.
Grow your self-efficacy by:
• Accepting your condition and the responsibility for managing it well.
• Choosing healthcare practitioners who treat you like a collaborative client and not a passive patient. Adopt a partnership approach with your healthcare practitioners. Work with them to identify obstacles, set goals and plan interventions together.
• Be proactive. Obtain the knowledge and skills you need to make informed choices and develop healthy habits.
• Focus on promotion of wellness, not just prevention of illness. Remind yourself of the things you can still do and control in your life.
If we believe we have self-efficacy, we will self-regulate. Self-regulation means applying self-control and limits to our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in order to get a desired outcome – in this case, wellness. When we self-regulate we can respond, rather than react, to things that happen to us. It enables us to choose the best course of action based on healthy mindsets, attitudes and habits; rather than living impulsively from unhealthy ones.
Self-efficacy and self-regulation depend on us having a healthy and positive perception of ourselves and our lives.
Which do you cultivate in your life – optimism or pessimism? Is managing your Diabetes pushed by the fear of what can go wrong or pulled by the joy of a healthy and happy life?
The contentment that comes from good self-regulation also causes physical changes. Levels of stress hormones (like Cortisol) are lowered making glucose control easier, decreasing blood pressure, reducing inflammation and boosting immunity! You may not be happy about having diabetes, but being happy despite it will change your health.
According to the American Diabetes Association, Depression affects 20–25% of people with Diabetes and their overall incidence of mental disorders is almost doubled. You are most vulnerable to mental and emotional distress when you’ve just been diagnosed; when your treatment regime needs changing; and when complications are setting in.
Grow your self-regulation by:
• Identifying, challenging and changing any problem beliefs, attitudes and habits related to Diabetes. (Particularly those that come from or feed hopelessness and powerlessness in you.) You may need to enlist the help of practitioners like health coaches, counsellors or psychologists to do this.
• Having realistic expectations of interventions and their outcomes. Regularly re-evaluate your current management approaches and be open to trying new ones. Discuss the outcomes you can expect with your medical practitioner.
• Resourcing your mental and emotional life. Get adequate rest; make space for creativity and fun; and get positive input from books and other sources.
3. Supportive relationships
One of the main contributors to our health and happiness is the availability of stable, caring and supportive relationships in our lives. Do you have a support system of friends and family? Remember that ‘support’ does not necessarily mean ‘agreement’! Build relationships with people who will be honest with you and even disagree with you if they believe your health is at stake. If they really care for you, they will.
Grow your support system by:
• Communicating your feelings honestly to people and letting them help you.
• Prioritising social time in your schedule.
• Maintaining boundaries on difficult relationships and taking down walls in others you want to develop.
• Connecting into a Diabetes support group or community if this kind of interaction fuels you.
4. Spiritual and cultural traditions.
We are strongest and happiest when we feel our lives have meaning and purpose. These may come from different sources for each of us, but are most commonly from our spiritualty and/or culture.
Grow your spiritual and cultural life by:
• Connecting with a community that shares your faith, spirituality and/or cultural background.
• Exploring your community’s beliefs about illness, wellness and your condition.
• Adopting spiritual and cultural habits or traditions that are helpful to your wellness.
American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical care in Diabetes – 2016: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/suppl/2015/12/21/39.Supplement_1.DC2/2016-Standards-of-Care.pdf