Diabetes and OCD: Obsessing Over Your Blood Sugar Levels
Diabetes and OCD are connected. The most obvious way is that living with both illnesses is stressful, each making the other more difficult. For example, most people with diabetes worry about their blood sugar levels, but for those also living with OCD, the obsession grows until it consumes their lives.
The association between obsessive-compulsive disorder and diabetes relates to the experience of dealing with each illness. Also, researchers have begun to discover that the connection runs deeper ("Challenges in Managing Diabetes When Living with OCD"). Metabolic problems in diabetes and OCD symptoms affect each other; therefore, functions like obsessing over your blood sugar levels relate to thoughts, emotions, behaviors—as well as biology and physiology (Konstantinos et al., 2012). This look at the experience of living with these conditions can help you better understand yourself or a loved one.
Diabetes and OCD: What are They?
Diabetes is an illness in which the body can’t control its own blood glucose (sugar). After you eat, carbohydrates are digested into glucose. Normally, insulin is released by the pancreas to help the glucose enter the cells of the body for energy. In type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t make insulin, whereas in type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t uses its insulin efficiently or doesn’t make enough. In either case, glucose stays in the blood. This leads to serious damage throughout the body, so people with diabetes must monitor their blood sugar levels, possibly take medication like insulin, watch nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle components.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness involving repetitive, often intrusive thoughts (obsessions). These obsessions are based on fear and anxiety and simultaneously cause fear and anxiety. Compulsions are behaviors that are done to alleviate the stress and anxiety caused by the obsessions ("Diabetes and Anxiety: There’s Plenty to Be Anxious About").
When someone lives with both diabetes and OCD, they have things going on in both their brain and body that converge into a perfect storm:
- Imagined horrible consequences of every thought, emotion, spoken word, and action or non-action
A major component of diabetes treatment is blood sugar monitoring and management. It’s common for anyone living with diabetes to experience fear, self-blame, and imagined horrible consequences of such things as improper blood sugar control, but for someone who also lives with OCD, these anxieties skyrocket and can shut them down.
Obsessions About Blood Sugar Levels: Beyond Overthinking
With OCD, some worries aren’t reality-based and can be refuted more easily than others. The anxieties about diabetes and its health consequences, though, are very real. Typical fears about problems related to blood sugar levels, amounts of insulin and other medication, nutrition, health complications, and overall lifestyle take hold and become constant obsessions for someone with diabetes and OCD.
The relentless obsessions often involve a constant, nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right.
- What if my blood sugar levels are too high? Too low?
- What if I did my last reading wrong and my glucose levels are dangerously off?
- What if I did my last reading correctly but the machine didn’t work right?
- What if the reading was correct but a minute later my blood sugar spiked or plummeted?
These obsessive worries don’t stop, and pressure builds to do something to alleviate them. The person needs reassurance and begins to think obsessively about checking their blood sugar. The urge builds until they must check their blood sugar. Blood sugar levels become both an obsession (the thought) and a compulsion (the act of checking).
Checking and re-checking, worrying about every fluctuation no matter how minor, can consume someone’s day—and very life. According to the Mayo Clinic (2018), most people need to check their blood sugar between three and 10 times per day (some with type 2 who aren’t using insulin often don’t need to check). Someone with OCD might check their glucose levels 25, 50, or more times per day.
The Consequences of Obsessive Blood Sugar Testing
Too often, for someone with diabetes and OCD, life is lived for the disease. Worry and fear about health problems are all-consuming. Part of OCD is a high need for control; thus, compulsively checking and monitoring aspects of diabetes like blood sugar, lifestyle, nutrition, amount of insulin delivered takes over all other activities.
Obsessions and compulsions limit life, interfere with happiness, and increase stress and anxiety. Both OCD and diabetes are manageable in a healthy way. Work with your doctor and therapist to change your thinking and approach to diabetes management. These healthcare professionals can help you set limits and testing guidelines.
Monitoring blood sugar levels is healthy. Obsessing and compulsively checking, though, are physically and mentally unhealthy. With help, you can learn to manage not just your blood sugar but your diabetes as whole and OCD. You can regain control of your life.
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). Diabetes and OCD: Obsessing Over Your Blood Sugar Levels, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, June 6 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/diabetes-and-ocd-obsessing-over-your-blood-sugar-levels