Diabetes is the perfect breeding ground for anger. Anger can start at diagnosis with the question, "Why me?" You may dwell on how unfair diabetes is: "I'm so angry at this disease! I don't want to treat it. I don't want to control it. I hate it!"
One reason diabetes and anger so often go hand in hand is that diabetes can make you feel threatened. Life with diabetes can seem full of dangers - insulin reactions or complications. When you fear these threats, anger often surges to your defense.
While it's true that out-of-control anger can cause more harm than good, that's only part of the story. Anger can also help you assert and protect yourself. You can learn to use your anger. You can even put it to work for better diabetes care.
Anger and Self-Care
Anger worked against Mary H., a woman in her mid-fifties who was diagnosed with diabetes six months ago. She was furious. She saw diabetes as not just a threat to her health, but also to her whole way of life. A very proud woman, active in community and social affairs, she found it impossible to be open about her "weakness." She didn't want her friends to prepare special foods for her. She even felt her husband now saw her as an "invalid" and that she was "less of a woman" to him. Denial fueled Mary's anger at diabetes.
The Anger Circle
Mary was stuck in an anger circle. She was angry at diabetes for changing her life. She refused to face her health care needs because she refused to change her life. Her diabetes went uncared for and her blood sugar levels stayed high. As the disease went on poorly controlled, Mary felt worse. Her anger at diabetes grew.
If you find yourself in an anger circle, like Mary, you don't have to stay stuck. One way to break the circle comes from Dr. Weisinger's Anger Work Out Book by Hendrie Weisinger, PhD. He suggests you do three things:
- Figure out what's making you angry. How is that anger affecting your life? Keep track of when you feel angry. Each evening, think back over the day. When were you angry? What time was it? Who were you angry at? What did you do about it?
After several weeks, read over your notes. See any patterns? When Mary read her anger diary, she learned that social situations made her angry. She did not like talking about her diabetes in public. She felt angry if friends asked her what she could eat or made special food. When she and her husband tried to go out with friends, she felt her diabetes was the center of attention.
- Change the thoughts, physical responses, and actions that fuel your anger. Look for warning signs that your anger is building. Do you feel tense? Are you talking louder and faster? When you feel anger taking over, calm yourself by:
- talking slowly
- slowing your breathing
- getting a drink of water
- sitting down
- leaning back
- quieting yourself. Silence is golden in these situations.
These steps don't mean you stop feeling angry. Instead, they mean you are taking charge of your anger.
- Find ways to make your anger work for you. Your anger diary can help. Read your notes again. Look at each situation. Ask yourself - How was my anger helping me cope? Mary decided her anger was helping her avoid talking about her diabetes with others. She decided to try answering questions in a matter-of-fact way. But she found that talking about diabetes in public still made her furious.
Mary's anger told her something very important. She still hadn't accepted having diabetes. To get more support, she joined her local American Diabetes Association. Meeting other people with diabetes helped her feel less alone. She also realized that having diabetes did not make her less of a person.
Slowly, she was able to enjoy her friends again. She was able to talk openly about her disease and also tell her friends that she didn't want special treatment.
Let Anger Be Your Ally
The goal is not to get anger out of your life. You may go on feeling angry about the same things. When you feel threatened, afraid, or frustrated, anger is a normal response. But you can put your anger to work for you. Your anger may be a signal that you need to take action. A few sessions with a skilled counselor might help.
Anger can be a force for action, change, and growth. The better you understand your anger, the better you will be able to use it for good self-care.