Diabetes Distress and Burnout

Diabetes is difficult, emotionally and physically, and a person with diabetes can start to struggle even after years of good management.

Helpful Highlights

  • Diabetes distress and burnout are real. 1 in 4 people with Type 1, and 1 in 5 people with Type 2, experience it.

  • It is important to have realistic - not ideal - expectations about diabetes management. Even the CDC advises not to let perfect become the enemy of good.

  • Diabetes distress, diabetes burnout, and depression are NOT the same things.

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"In the face of a complex, demanding, and often confusing set of self-care directives, patients may become frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, and/or discouraged. Diabetes-related conflict with loved ones may develop, and relationships with healthcare providers may become strained. The risk of depression is elevated. As a result, motivation for self-care may be impaired."

Diabetes distress and burnout

“Diabetes distress is what some people feel when they’re overwhelmed by the relentlessness of diabetes. This can lead to diabetes burnout.” Consequently, you as the caregiver can experience this, as well.

Your loved one having diabetes, rather than diabetes having them, involves great effort on their part every day, every week, every month, every year, year after year. They may reach a point where they are exhausted, frustrated, or even angry because, despite their best efforts, they may not see the results they want - or more accurately, that is expected of them - and may develop health problems related to diabetes despite their hard work. This upset is diabetes distress.

When distress persists for long enough, your loved one may slip into unhealthy habits, even after years of good management. This is diabetes burnout.

Signs your loved one may be experiencing diabetes burnout:

  • Persistent anger over having to manage diabetes

  • Constant worry about diabetes self-care but no motivation to make changes

  • Stopping blood sugar checks

  • Avoiding appointments

  • Frequent unhealthy food choices

  • Repeatedly expressing feelings of being alone in their diabetes (no one is like them, no one understands them, no one has as much trouble as they do)

Not the same as depression

Diabetes distress and burnout are different from each other, and both are wholly separate from depression, with only a minor overlap.

That is not to suggest that depression may not also be present in your loved one, though to provide appropriate and personalized treatment, providers should make the clinical distinction between distress, burnout, and depression before planning care.

For further discussion on this topic, check out the Helpful Guide Distinguishing Diabetes Distress, Diabetes Burnout, and Depression.

What can I do to help?

Foremost, understand that the lived experience of diabetes is a very personal one. There are thoughts, feelings, and sensations occurring regularly within a person with diabetes that another person doesn't understand, even others who have diabetes. So, with that, also understand that despite your best caregiving efforts, you cannot singlehandedly prevent your loved one from developing distress and burnout. Distress and burnout are no one's fault, not yours or theirs. It happens.

If you recognize one or more signs that your loved one may be experiencing diabetes distress or burnout, there are many things you can do to help.

  • Remind your loved one that blood sugar levels are just a number, just a piece of data, and not a reflection of who they are or how much effort they have put into self-care. Blood sugar checks are also not a pass-fail system!

  • Remind them to be kind to themselves and let go of high expectations, especially those that have been thrust on them rather than embraced by them. No one has a perfect relationship with diabetes.

  • Remind them to take a break. Talk to qualified healthcare professionals about when and how your loved one can spend less time and energy on their diabetes. Not ignoring it completely, but being able to relax daily targets or reduce the number of blood checks sometimes.

  • Encourage them to talk about how they feel, whether their feelings are diabetes-related or not. Remind them that they are still a whole person and not just this condition and that they are allowed to indulge in thoughts and feelings not centered on diabetes.

  • Involve their healthcare team, who may have surprising suggestions and alternatives for shaking distress and recovering from burnout.

  • Encourage your loved one to connect to people who will get them. Support communities can seem unnecessary and even intimidating at first, though dozens of studies and surveys show that once engaged, people with diabetes not only have improved glycemic management but also find a real kinship with one another and share a lot.


American Diabetes Association

Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES)

Azmiardi, A., Murti, B., Febrinasari, R.P., & Tamtomo, D.G. (2021). The effect of peer support in diabetes self-management education on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Epidemiology and Health, 43, e2021090. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4178/epih.e2021090

CDC. (2022, March 31). 10 tips for coping with diabetes distress. Link

CDC. (2022, June 20). Dealing with diabetes burnout. Link

Diabetes UK. (n.d.). What is diabetes distress and burnout? Link

Kiriella, D.A., Islam, S., Oridota, O., Sohler, N., Dessenne, C., de Beaufort, C., et al. (2021). Unraveling the concepts of distress, burnout, and depression in type 1 diabetes: A scoping review. eClinicalMedicine, 2021 Oct, 40, 101118. doi: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.101118

Polonsky, W.H., Fisher, L., Earles, J., Dudl, R.J., Lees, J., Mullan, J., & Jackson, R.A. (2005). Assessing psychosocial distress in diabetes: Development of the diabetes distress scale. Diabetes Care, 28(3), 626-631. DOI: 10.2337/diacare.28.3.626

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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