The focus in managing type 2 diabetes includes blood sugar monitoring, taking your prescribed medications as needed, and working with a healthcare team on food choices, exercise planning, and mental health.

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If you live with type 2 diabetes (T2D), you may spend much more time on self-care than in doctors’ offices or working with your diabetes care team. Most of your diabetes management is on your own each day. That’s why learning the best ways to care for yourself is so valuable.

A healthcare team may guide you and check your condition, but you have most of the power when it comes to staying healthy.

This article will focus on your own T2D self-care, involving everything from blood sugar monitoring, insulin or other medications, meal planning, and adequate exercise routines that can keep your health and diabetes management in check.

Most people with T2D spend most of their diabetes management time caring for themselves versus in doctors’ offices.

A 2018 nationwide survey of several hundred diabetes care and education specialists estimated that it took adults with T2D about 66 minutes a day for routine self-care. The education specialists included monitoring blood sugar twice daily and oral medication into their estimate.

The specialists’ estimate is quite a bit lower than what the survey revealed was the total estimated time each day for diabetes self-care: about 4 hours for adults and more than 5 hours for children.

By contrast, you may only spend 1 hour or less every few months seeing a healthcare team for checkups, tests, and guidance. One doctor survey notes your time with that person may only be 17 to 24 minutes.

Because so much of your treatment is in your hands, knowing how to go about self-care is essential. Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires ongoing care to prevent or lessen complications. Self-care each day may help determine how you feel and how you stay healthy in the long term.

Monitoring your blood sugar is one of the most important things you can do to manage diabetes.

While everyone’s diabetes care may vary, checking glucose levels is important because it gives you a sense of how you’re managing your diabetes and if you may need any changes to medications, food choices, exercise habits, or other factors.

Many factors influence how often you’ll need to check your blood sugar. Some people may need to check a couple of times a day, while others may choose to check their blood sugars more frequently.

You may choose to poke your finger for a small blood drop to check your blood sugar on a small handheld meter, or you may opt for a continuous glucose monitor that provides a more complete picture of how your glucose levels are fluctuating throughout the day.

People who need to check their blood sugar more often include those who:

  • get low blood sugar without apparent symptoms
  • are pregnant and have diabetes
  • take insulin
  • often have high blood sugar levels
  • test high for ketone levels

What should your blood sugar levels be?

You can read more about how blood sugars (or glucose levels) play a part in your diabetes management and understand what glucose goals may be best for you to discuss with a healthcare team.

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Your healthcare team may suggest one or more medications to help you manage T2D. These medications may include:

  • Metformin: The medication metformin is often a first-line treatment for people who live with T2D, but some people can’t tolerate the medication because of the possible side effects.
  • Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1s): GLP-1s are a class of medication that help lower blood sugar levels and also have some heart health and kidney function benefits. GLP-1s may include the following:
  • Insulin: A doctor may also prescribe insulin, a hormone in your body that helps balance your blood glucose levels. When there’s too much glucose in your bloodstream, insulin tells your body to store the leftover glucose in your liver. Needing insulin isn’t a sign of failure and shouldn’t be feared as an option for diabetes management.

A healthcare team may also prescribe other common medications for T2D.

Lifestyle changes are an essential way to manage diabetes. These changes may include exercise, maintaining a moderate weight, and eating a healthy and nutritious diet.

You may work with a doctor who specializes in diabetes and a dietitian who can help you plan your meals.

At the end of the day, you may spend a lot of time buying healthy foods, planning meals, and cooking. Because of the work that goes into meal planning, getting support and guidance can be helpful.

Some general recommendations for healthy eating with diabetes include:

  • learning what serving and portion sizes look like
  • monitoring sugar and learning what items contain added sugar
  • drinking water and limiting sugary beverages
  • avoiding fried foods
  • avoiding saturated fat
  • choosing lower or low-fat dairy and cuts of meat
  • eating the correct amount at the ideal time
  • focusing on whole foods
  • eating more non-starchy and green vegetables

Managing diabetes and making lifestyle changes can come with a learning curve. Working with diabetes educators can help you make better choices that may help you better manage T2D.

Some of the skills diabetes educators can help you learn may include:

  • managing your blood sugar
  • eating well
  • exercising enough
  • diabetes-related problem solving
  • fitting self-care into your lifestyle

A doctor may refer you to a diabetes self-management education and support service, or you can find one with the American Diabetes Association tool.

Developing a diabetes care plan

You may need to work with a healthcare team to figure out a diabetes care plan that works best for you.

A care plan will likely include different items such as blood sugar management, medications that may help you manage your diabetes, food choices, exercise plans, and mental health considerations.

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It’s just as important to take care of your mental health as your physical health when you live with T2D. Diabetes may worsen mental health, and untreated mental health issues may make your diabetes management more difficult.

People who have diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to have depression, and only one-quarter to one-half of the population seek help. Getting help and support can help you cope with the stress that can come with self-care.

Research from 2018 points to the benefits of receiving emotional and psychological help, including improvement in diabetes management in the short term as well as preventing diabetes complications in the long term.

Some ways to cope include:

  • asking for a referral to a mental health professional who regularly treats people with chronic conditions
  • joining a diabetes support group
  • focusing on one or two small goals at a time
  • seeing an endocrinologist who may have a deeper understanding of your condition
  • working individually with a diabetes educator

A healthcare team can help you manage T2D through office visits, routine medical testing, lifestyle education, nutritional advice, or counseling.

But, when all is said and done, you’ll likely spend much more time on self-care than on office visits. You have the most power concerning your diabetes management. Learning and using T2D self-care is the best way to stay healthy.