Self-Care Awareness Month: daily behaviors for managing your own health

What is “Self Care”, Really? Self-care is defined by the World Health Organization as recognizing individuals as active agents in managing their o...

What is “Self Care”, Really?

Self-care is defined by the World Health Organization as recognizing individuals as active agents in managing their own health, whether for preventing or managing diseases; performing health checks, health education and promotion, rehabilitation and recovery, sexual health and much more.  

Nowadays we often see self-care portrayed in the way of indulgent relaxation.  What images come to mind when you think of self-care? Perhaps a relaxing massage, a hot bubble bath or an extra slice of chocolate cake? But self care isn’t a quick fix, from a medical standpoint, medical self-care means a long-term commitment to avoiding health complications and maintaining your own healthy lifestyle.  Individuals with type 2 have to be extra mindful with how they view self care.  The real self care isn’t putting cucumbers on your eyes during a facial, it’s the actual work that we have to do that no one else can do for us.

September is self care month, and we know this type of self-care can be overwhelming for patients experiencing diabetes, and it’s unsurprising that a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that many individuals struggle with motivation and support for self-care. So how can we engage in self care?

Day to Day Self Care

Self-care in diabetes has been defined as an evolutionary process of development of knowledge or awareness by learning to survive with the complex nature of diabetes in a social context. Because the vast majority of day-to-day care in diabetes is handled by patients and/or families, there is an important need for reliable and valid measures for self-management of diabetes.

There are seven essential self-care behaviors in people with diabetes which predict good outcomes:

  1. Healthy eating - plan ahead your meals and snacks to include high fiber, protein and healthy fats, whole foods in a variety of colors and limited additives 
  2. Being physically active - For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines: Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. 
  3. Monitoring of blood sugar - People with diabetes should check their blood sugar levels by poking their fingertips and using a blood glucose meter or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to measure the blood glucose level at that moment.
  4. Compliant with medications - not having lapses in your medications, scheduling and going to annual appointments and checkups. 
  5. Good problem-solving skills - Diabetes also changes over time and you may need some new ways to manage it. Using problem-solving techniques can help. Identify the problem, find solutions and take action!
  6. Healthy coping skills - spending time outside, consuming alcohol moderately, mindful meditation or journaling.
  7. Risk-reduction behaviors - getting enough sleep, foot care and checking your feet, drinking enough water.

All these seven behaviors have been found to be positively correlated with good glycemic control, reduction of complications and improvement in quality of life. Individuals with diabetes have been shown to make a dramatic impact on the progression and development of their disease by participating in their own care.

Being successful in self-care can be overwhelming for patients experiencing diabetes. The biggest keys to success are to stay organized and goal oriented. Setting small, achievable SMART goals for the seven self-care behaviors above will lead to your success. So identify possible roadblocks or problems, develop a plan, and take action.  This month, keeping a short health journal on the categories above, or using a short daily questionnaire like the one below can help you stay on track. Many people find journaling to be therapeutic, and improve consistency and productivity. 

You can use the following PDF or your own journal practice to record your self-care journey this month of September to have a mindful, accountable and healthy month. 

Daily Self-Care Worksheet for Diabetic and Prediabetic Patients 

Final Remarks

Life without self care means missed doctors appointments, poor meal planning, questionable hygiene and a lot of unnecessary stress.  This month when you think about self-care don’t see the words selfish, or indulgent, but instead personally diligent, and consistent in your health choices - thoughtfully choosing and following through with taking care of your overall well being.

Diabetes self-care requires the patient to make many dietary and lifestyle modifications supplemented with the supportive role of healthcare staff for maintaining a higher level of self-confidence leading to a successful behavior change. 

Throughout the month of September let’s join together in sharing our personal #selfcare tips and successes in our community Facebook group Winning Type 2 Diabetes Together, to help people protect and improve our health, and the health of others in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes! #SelfCareAwarenessMonth #SelfCareMonth #SelfCare