5 reasons why being kind to yourself is good for your diabetes

On World Kindness Day 2017 we are highlighting why self-compassion matters when it comes to diabetes management. 

by Dr Adriana Ventura

Today marks World Kindness Day (13 Nov), and while it is an important reminder to respect others’ differences and be inclusive and hospitable, it is also important to look inwards and direct that same respect and kindness toward ourselves. Emerging research into the construct of self-compassion suggests its potential utility for people with diabetes. Self-compassion is a way of relating to the self when confronted with difficult feelings. Instead of judging and criticising the self for various shortcomings, self-compassion means being kind and understanding. Managing diabetes offers many opportunities for self-criticism and feelings of ‘failure’, for example, when blood glucose targets are not reached or if weight management goals seem impossible!  Self-criticism is a common consequence of these negative diabetes events, thus it makes sense that the practice of self-compassion can assist people with diabetes to reduce psychological distress, and have subsequent flow on benefits for their health.

Self-compassion researchers, Dr Kristin Neff and Dr Christopher Germer, developed an 8-week ‘Mindful Self-Compassion’ (MSC) program, which is currently offered around the world. Based on this program and other empirical research on self-compassion, here are 5 reasons why self-compassion is good for people with diabetes and the people who support them:

Self-compassion reduces depressive symptoms and diabetes-related distress.

  1. To date there has been one trial (published in Diabetes Care) examining the effects of MSC among adults with diabetes. The trial, which included adults with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, showed the program produced statistically and clinically significant reductions in depression and diabetes-related distress, and these results were maintained at the 3-month follow-up assessment.
  2. Self-compassion has metabolic benefits.

    The same trial mentioned above, also examined the effects of the MSC program on HbA1c, showing that those who took part in the program had a statistical and clinically meaningful decrease in HbA1c between the baseline and follow-up assessments of >10mmol/mol; nearly 1% (on average).

  3. Self-compassion will increase your motivation.

    There is a misconception that being overly critical toward the self is necessary for achieving a goal, like eating a healthy diet or exercising regularly. In fact, people often find themselves emotionally eating when they feel they have ‘failed’ in some way. Research shows that being more understanding and forgiving toward the self will actually increase motivation to achieve a goal, like eating a healthy diet.

  4. Self-compassion reduces self-blame.

    We know from our research into diabetes stigma that adults with diabetes, particularly those with type 2 diabetes, report self-blame associated with the diagnosis and management of their condition. Self-compassion is the opposite of self-criticism, and can offer people a new and more adaptive way of relating to themselves when they’re being overly critical or judgemental.

  5. Self-compassion can prevent caregiver burnout.

    Self-compassion isn’t just a useful tool for people living with diabetes, it is also helpful for the people who support them, including health professionals and family/friends. Compassion fatigue or ‘burnout’ is a common problem among those in caregiving roles. There is some research suggesting that self-compassion can be used to increase caregiver quality of life, and in turn prevent burnout.

To read more about self-compassion, including tips on how to practice self-compassion, visit www.self-compassion.org. This website provides an up-to-date list of all self-compassion publications.

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