A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can be incredibly stressful. Once you receive that diagnosis, you will need to make some significant changes to your lifestyle to stay healthy. Managing your blood sugar, taking medications, and altering your diet and exercise regimen are a few of the areas that you will suddenly need to be more concerned about, and for some people, these changes can be upsetting and a difficult adjustment.
Surprisingly, research has found that major disparities between men and women when it comes to living with this disease. A study completed by WebMD in September 2011 found that women have a harder time coping with diabetes than men. This study surveyed 831 people who were living with diabetes, including 373 men and 458 women, and the findings were quite clear that women found coping with this disease to be more of a challenge than men. Since many women find themselves in a caretaker role in their families, this finding makes sense, and there are other aspects that can explain why females might find it more challenging to cope with a diabetes diagnosis.
Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and learning about all the tasks associated with effectively managing the condition can be stressful and overwhelming. Researchers found that half of female respondents admitted to feeling “overwhelmed” when it comes to living with type 2 diabetes, but less than one-third of men reported the same feelings. Likewise, a whopping two-thirds of men felt that they had control over the disease while only about half of women felt like they were in control of their diabetes.
According to the American Psychological Association, men and women manage stress differently:
• Women report having higher levels of stress than men (5.4 vs. 4.8, on a scale of 1-10).
• 25% of women admit that they are not doing enough to manage their stress level, compared to only 17% of men.
• 51% of women report that they are doing enough to manage their stress level, compared to 63% of men.
• 14% of men say that playing sports and exercise is an important technique in managing their stress, compared to only 4% of women.
When stress is not managed well, it can be difficult to stay healthy physically and mentally. Since women tend to have higher levels of stress and a more difficult time managing it, it is easy to see how coping with diabetes could become a real challenge for some people.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
Researchers have found that when it comes to managing type 2 diabetes, gender can impact how well an individual is able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Approximately one-third of women with diabetes reported that they exercised for at least 30 minutes per day while almost half of men reported the same thing. Likewise, only 45% of women reported to avoiding unhealthy snacking compared to 56% of male respondents.
Researchers have suggested that there is a significant difference in stress-coping behaviors, as women tend to be more likely to turn to food when stressed out than men. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to use smoking or alcohol to combat stress, and while neither are healthy behaviors, the effects tend to hit women harder. A Finnish study that studies over 5,000 women and men found that obesity was often associated with stress-related eating in women, but the same was not seen for male respondents.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that either men or women found it easier to manage the disease over time. Women respondents reported that 5-10 years after being diagnosed they still had difficulty with maintaining positive lifestyle behaviors like eating well and exercising. Likewise, men tended to experience a greater negative psychological or emotional impact 10 years after learning that they had diabetes.
The Gender Gap in Mental Health
According to Mayo Clinic, about 20% of women develop depression at some time in their life, and women are twice as likely as men to be living with depression. Depression can occur at any time in life, but in women, it is most common from 40-59 years of age, which is also a common time for women to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
There are a variety of reasons that a woman might develop depression, including hormones, inherited traits, and life experiences. When a woman learns that she has diabetes, this can be an added stressor that can trigger depression or cause existing depression to worsen. These mental health issues can lead to pessimism, making it even more, difficult for women to cope with and manage the disease.
Tools for Better Coping with Diabetes
While it is clear that women have a more difficult time coping with a diabetes diagnosis than men, individuals of both genders can benefit from tools that make it easier for them to manage the disease. Research has found that women with diabetes are enthusiastic about getting tools to better support them in managing the condition, and improved education can also be beneficial.
One such tool that has recently been created to help men and women cope with and manage their diabetes is the Diabetes head2toe plan, which was created by Rite-Aid. This program aims to provide people living with diabetes with comprehensive information about how to better manage the condition to stay healthy. It includes a personal diabetes plan, weekly exercise log, recipes, and daily glucose tracker.
Living with diabetes does not have to be overwhelming or stressful. By taking advantage of helpful tools and learning more about the disease, both men and women can better cope with their diagnosis and live healthier lives.