A research that shows how self-compassion, positive thoughts and emotions can help us achieve a better life.
Brief note about my journey as a Type 1 Diabetic :
My journey of living with Type 1 Diabetes began when I was in the 10th standard. However, my family had been in the same boat, ten years prior, when my elder sister was diagnosed in her 10th too. As a result, she became my source of inspiration. I drew from her experiences and was able to easily accustom to a new way of life. My family served as a protective factor and Type 1 Diabetes never posed as a barrier for me to achieve my goals.
However, from people around me, I had heard of several experiences and opinions that were contradictory to my own. While every person’s journey of living with T1DM is unique, I wanted to know how was it that despite several barriers, many people managed to fare extremely well. This lead me to conduct a research in Psychology, as a tool for gaining answers to these individual differences.
What I learnt during my research process :
During my time interacting with participants, I came across several people with extremely rich narratives. Research aside, we discussed about the role that mental health and social support play in the management of Diabetes. Since most of them are now adults, and had been diagnosed long before me, asking questions and listening to their trajectories taught me several important things. Some of which I describe below.
The first and the most important factor was self-compassion. At times, we as individuals with T1DM, beat ourselves over not achieving a ‘good number’ / sugar level. We may even fret over our lack of control and scold ourselves to do better. This may push us closer to the numbers we require. However, we may lose out on the feeling of true happiness and satisfaction. Which is why, we need to motivate ourselves in the same way we would motivate a loved one. The impact that consciously being kind to oneself can have, is subtle, but powerful. Not only does it affect the way we think of ourselves, but also our diagnosis and our surroundings. As we come to accept ourselves with all our strengths and flaws, we also get to make peace with our diagnosis.
One way in which we can cultivate self-compassion and positive emotions, is by altering the way we think. Worrying about our sugar levels is natural. However, worrying constantly is not very healthy. Instead, we can direct our thought processes to the positive aspects of our journey. This also involves putting our lives into perspective and making plans for ourselves. These plans can range from the management of diabetes it, to career, work, relationships, hobbies, skills, education, etc.
We can also make ourselves more positively goal oriented. This means that every time we see a number on our glucose meters, we do not like ; instead of worrying about what could happen, we can start taking it in our stride. By reclaiming the control we have over our thought process, we can guide ourselves to take control of our sugar levels too. The way we think and feel about ourselves, and the way we manage our diabetes, are two sides of the same coin.
Most of these elements mentioned above may come naturally to us. However, what is little known is that being kind to yourself also comes from feeling one with the world, rather than cut out from it. When we engage with people with similar experiences as our own, we get to re-evaluate our situation or notice the times we may have under-appreciated our strengths. Not only does this help us ‘count our blessings’, but also look beyond ourselves and to a deeper connection with others. Being a part of organisations like DIYA is a great example of the same.
While it may seem obvious, even niche, to talk about self-love and its impact, it remains a golden truth, backed by research. We are bound to oscillate between moments, when we either feel good or not so good about ourselves. However, the knowledge of how self-compassion and positive emotions are connected to our health outcomes can help us design better pathways for ourselves. Knowing that there is always a potential for change is a great source of hope.
Not only is this message important for individuals with Type 1 Diabetes, but also for their loved ones, care takers and doctors. We often develop a sense of self by using inputs from our surroundings. And that is why, motivation and support from people in our lives is equally important. For instance, doctors often instil a sense of confidence in their patients before they walk out of the clinic. Simple gestures like being mindful of the fact that their patients / loved ones may be feeling upset or may feel under pressure in terms of health, helps (coupled with providing comfort and
steering them towards self-compassion).
As far as our own practices go, as individuals with T1D, engaging in mindfulness, while carrying out our daily activities helps too. This includes bringing all our attention to the present moment, and taking it in, devoid of any judgements. Therefore, the next time you take your insulin, observe yourself and your emotions, your strengths and your support systems. Consciously crowd your mind with these thoughts. Reclaim control.
To summarise what Kristin Neff, a renowned self-compassion researcher says, ‘Selfcompassion
means healing with kindness’. It can drive us to do much better than we expect.