How to build resilience as a person with diabetes

In the tapestry of life, living with diabetes often adds complex patterns, weaving in challenges that test your strength, adaptability and spirit. But amidst these challenges lies an opportunity, the chance to build resilience.

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“Remember, resilience isn’t a journey you embark on alone. It’s a path you walk with the support of family, friends, healthcare professionals, and the wider diabetes community.”

What is resilience?

Resilience, a term widely explored within the realms of psychological and health sciences, refers to the capacity of individuals to endure, adapt, and grow in the face of adversity. This concept, backed by extensive scientific research, highlights the dynamic nature of human strength and the potential for personal development through challenging circumstances.

In other words: resilience isn’t just a beneficial trait but a critical component of effective disease management and quality of life improvement.

Understanding resilience in diabetes

In diabetes, resilience isn’t a static trait but a continuously evolving process, shaped by various factors, including personal attributes, family dynamics, community support, and healthcare systems. It involves recognising and harnessing protective factors that buffer against diabetes-related stressors while navigating the complexities of daily management.

Resilience in the context of diabetes should be thought of as a multifaceted journey, rather than a single destination. It’s about developing a dynamic and adaptive approach to life.

More specifically, Hilliard and colleagues in their study Diabetes Resilience: A Model of Risk and Protection in Type 1 Diabetes highlight that resilience involves engaging in effective self-management, maintaining quality of life, and achieving optimal glycaemic control (despite the inherent challenges of the condition). Of course, all of these outcomes require a very particular mindset.

Building blocks of resilience

Based on the science available to us, what makes a person with diabetes resilient?

  • Emotional processing and coping skills

Emotional resilience is about developing skills to process the range of emotions that accompany diabetes management, from frustration and fear to hope and determination. Techniques such as mindfulness, stress reduction, and positive reframing are tools that can be built in order to foster psychological resilience.

  • Knowledge and self-efficacy

Understanding diabetes, its risks, and management strategies enhances resilience. When you’re informed, you’re equipped to make decisions that positively impact your health. Knowledge equals power, in this scenario.

  • Social support

Social resilience emerges from the support we garner from family, friends, healthcare providers, and diabetes support groups. These networks provide not just emotional backing but also practical assistance in managing diabetes. 

  • Adaptive problem-solving

Resilience involves developing the ability to solve problems creatively, especially in adapting diabetes management to everyday life situations. This might involve, for example, harnessing the power of phone apps to assist in carb counting.

  • Celebrating small victories

Acknowledging and celebrating small successes in diabetes management can boost morale and reinforce positive behaviours. It’s important to keep in mind, for example, that “perfect” blood-glucose levels are neither achievable nor necessary. Sometimes, you need to simply remind yourself that you have tried your best for the day.

What else can you do to nurture psychological resilience day-by-day?

  • Healthcare engagement

Proactively engaging with healthcare providers, being part of treatment decisions, and regularly updating knowledge about diabetes care fosters a sense of control and resilience. It’s about being an active participant, rather than a passive recipient, in your health journey.

Naturally, this depends on the nature of the healthcare system upon which you rely: some don’t have the privilege to be able to choose their treating team. You do, however, have the right to communicate any questions or dissatisfactions that you might have, so that you can ensure that you are getting the care that your entitled to.

In this regard, clear and confident communication is a sign of diabetes resilience. For the parents out there, this is a vital skill that we want to model and foster in our little ones with Type 1.

  • Physical wellness

Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate rest aren’t just crucial for managing diabetes but also for building physical resilience. A healthy body can better cope with stress and maintain optimal glucose levels. This, in turn, supports brain health and psychological resilience.

To add an extra dose of resilience to your daily routine, why not try an ice-plunge or cold-water immersion? Preliminary research suggests that cold water therapy can improve glucose metabolism, lower blood-glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity. While more research in needed to fully understand the pros and cons of this strategy, for many a cold-water plunge can help foster mental toughness and improve emotional regulation.

  • Mental health awareness

Addressing mental health is vital. Anxiety and depression can accompany diabetes, and acknowledging this interconnection opens the door to holistic care. Seeking professional help when needed is a sign of strength, not weakness.

  • Personal growth and learning

Resilience is fuelled by a mindset of growth and learning. Every challenge encountered in the diabetes journey is an opportunity to learn something new about oneself, to grow stronger, and to develop new strategies for better management.

Remember that diabetes is a dynamic condition: over time, your body, lifestyles and circumstances change. This means that you need to engage in frequent “relearning” of skills and approaches to self-management.

  • Community involvement

Getting involved in diabetes advocacy, support groups, or community events can provide a sense of purpose and belonging, reinforcing the notion that you’re not alone in this journey.

Embracing resilience as a way of life

Building resilience as a person with diabetes is an ongoing process, filled with highs and lows (so to speak!). It’s about adapting to life’s changes, finding strength in adversity, and moving forward with optimism and determination.

Resilience transcends basic coping skills: it’s about thriving in the face of challenges and transforming adversity into an opportunity for growth and empowerment. Remember, resilience isn’t a journey you embark on alone. It’s a path you walk with the support of family, friends, healthcare professionals, and the wider diabetes community.


Hilliard, M. E., Harris, M. A., & Weissberg-Benchell, J. (2012). Diabetes resilience: A model of risk and protection in Type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 35(11), 2194-2201.

Ivanova, Y. M., & Blondin, D. P. (2021). Physiology of thermal therapy: Examining the benefits of cold exposure as a therapeutic strategy for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Journal of Applied Physiology, 130(6), 1448–1459.

Lorig, K. R., Ritter, P. L., Laurent, D. D., & Plant, K. (2006). Internet-based chronic disease self-management: A randomized trial. Medical Care, 44(11), 964-971.

Trief, P. M., Izquierdo, R., Eimicke, J. P., Teresi, J. A., Goland, R., Palmas, W., Shea, S., & Weinstock, R. S. (2013). Adherence to diabetes self-care for White, African-American, and Hispanic American telemedicine participants: 5-year results from the IDEATel project. Ethnicity & Health, 18(1), 83-96.


Daniel Sher is a registered clinical psychologist who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for over 28 years. He practices from Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town where he works with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes to help them thrive. Visit

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