More than 10 percent of people in the United States have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But despite how common it is, diabetes can often be a lonely and isolating condition.

Loneliness can potentially worsen the condition and make it difficult to follow treatment plans. Plus, high levels of loneliness may lead to other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

That’s why it’s important to find ways to maintain social connections while managing diabetes.

Let’s take a closer look at the link between loneliness and diabetes, along with ways you can reduce feelings of isolation and improve your emotional well-being.

There’s a two-way link between loneliness and diabetes, according to research from 2018.

Living with diabetes can make it difficult to participate in physical activity and have social interactions.

That, in turn, can cause stress and inflammation — which can lead to worse health outcomes for people with diabetes. As the condition worsens, it can be even more difficult to have a social life.

So, loneliness and diabetes can exist in a cycle, where each makes the other worse.

There’s also some evidence that loneliness can increase the risk of diabetes.

A 2020 study tracked more than 4,000 people over 12 years and found that those who were more lonely at the start of the study were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared with those who had lower loneliness scores.

This finding echoes research from 2017, which found that people who have small social networks were more likely to have type 2 diabetes.

For people living with diabetes, this data may provide comfort. It shows that you’re not alone in feeling lonely.

But it only starts to scratch the surface of the relationship between loneliness and diabetes. More research is needed to understand the complexities of this connection.

There are many reasons why diabetes can contribute to social isolation.

In some cases, people may avoid social interactions because they feel self-conscious about checking blood glucose levels or administering insulin outside of their home.

Other people don’t want to answer questions, however well-meaning, about their experience with diabetes.

Another contributing factor might be the feeling that those around you are nagging you about your condition.

A 2018 study found higher rates of loneliness among people with diabetes who felt bothered by reminders from family members to take medication, follow a diet, or exercise. Those who were happy to have the reminders tended to be less lonely.

The complications from diabetes — such as retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy — can also make it difficult to participate in social events and maintain relationships.

A 2020 study found that people with chronic complications from diabetes were more likely to have higher levels of loneliness.

While this body of research shows that diabetes can put you at an increased risk of loneliness, it is possible to maintain your social life. It might mean looking at new ways of connecting with others and being intentional about socializing to reduce feelings of isolation.

You can take several steps to combat loneliness if you live with type 2 diabetes. For many people, overcoming these feelings can take some time, so try to be patient as you work through them.

Here are some things you can do to feel less lonely.

Volunteer

Find volunteer opportunities by contacting groups or organizations that are meaningful to you, such as an animal shelter. Your local community centers may also have listings of places actively recruiting volunteers.

As a volunteer, you can give back to others and also develop stronger social ties. Some volunteer opportunities can also be fully remote, allowing you to contribute to the community and foster connections online.

Join a support group

Talking to others with type 2 diabetes can help forge shared connections. It reminds you that you’re not alone and can help you learn new tools to overcome barriers.

Your local diabetes organization may have resources for in-person or online groups in your area. You can also search for support groups through the Defeat Diabetes Foundation.

Move your body

Exercise is not only an important part of managing type 2 diabetes — it can also be an opportunity to connect with others.

Join a walking group or sign up for a class in tai chi, yoga, or another activity you enjoy. Even going to the gym can give you the opportunity to talk with others about fitness and relieve some loneliness.

Reach out to friends and family

Take the initiative to call family members and friends. Just a brief check-in can relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Try to focus on those people who tend to make you feel more positive and supported, instead of those who add to feelings of personal stress. That way, you can leave the conversation feeling uplifted.

Take a class

Take a class on a subject that interests you. Community colleges, university extensions, and private organizations have a range of courses available on almost any subject imaginable.

Whatever your interest, from ancient history to sewing, you can find a class to learn more about it. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet other students and an instructor who all share a common interest, making it easier to spark a connection.

Get the tools to help

Sometimes people with diabetes face practical barriers that make it hard to manage their condition on the go. Getting the right tools can help, though.

Talk with local diabetes organizations about getting free or low cost mobility aids, testing kits, and other supplies. These can make it easier to leave home and experience life in the community.

There’s a complex connection between loneliness and diabetes. Some research shows that loneliness can increase your risk of diabetes.

The condition can also present challenges that make it difficult to maintain social connections, which can worsen health outcomes.

Taking an active role in your social life can help reduce feelings of loneliness. You may be able to find new friends through fitness classes, continuing education courses, and volunteer opportunities.

A diabetes support group can also help you meet people who understand firsthand what you’re going through and help you feel less alone.