Domestic Violence, Anger, and Diabetes

Mature couple having a fight

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Everyone has experienced “hanger” at some point—the mood swings caused by low blood sugar aren’t confined to those with diabetes. And anger and frustration can also be common reactions when someone has a chronic disease. It's a lot to cope with, and at times it may really be upsetting to have to deal with diabetes day after day for a lifetime.

Your partner's diabetes may cause you to overlook or make excuses for angry reactions, which is okay to an extent. However, anger that escalates into physical, verbal, or emotional abuse is not something to tolerate, and it is treatable. With self-care and preparation, most severe mood swings are avoidable.

The Role of Blood Sugar in Emotion

The fluctuating blood glucose levels that characterize uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to mood swings and lead to unpredictable or even aggressive behavior.

What's sometimes called "diabetic rage" can be dangerous, because it may involve behaviors a person isn't consciously aware of. Physiologically, when someone's blood sugar fluctuates, spikes, or drops, it can produce feelings of anger, anxiety, or depression that are essentially out of the control of the person experiencing them.

More seriously, extremes of both hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia can lead to cognitive impairment, confusion, loss of self-control, or hallucinations. These conditions should be considered a medical emergency.

When Anger Becomes Abuse

Every person has a right to get angry sometimes, but it isn't normal for someone with diabetes to erupt into anger and take it out on others. If anger is expressed violently to hurt or scare you, then it becomes domestic abuse. Abuse can be actual physical contact, like hitting, slapping, pushing, or otherwise inflicting bodily harm, but it can also be threatening or belittling you or making you feel intimidated or scared.

What to Do If You're Struggling With Diabetes and Anger

If you or a loved one have diabetes and experience mood swings as a result of low blood sugar, there are ways to manage. 

  • Eat consistently. First, and most importantly, watch your diet and always eat consistently. Experiment until you know what will quickly regulate your blood sugar. 
  • Take good care of yourself. Taking medication and eating right and regularly are essential components of keeping your blood sugar under control. Since the hormones that regulate blood sugar also regulate stress levels, when your blood sugar is off, you can become enraged or depressed, which in turn makes it harder to regulate your blood sugar. Keeping track of your blood glucose levels will also help you learn how and when anger affects you.
  • Learn to relieve emotions. Various techniques are proven to provide relief when you do feel anger or stress. Regular exercise, meditation, and yoga are particularly excellent ways to balance out and process emotions. You can also try taking a walk, writing in a journal, or breathing deeply for a minute or two. Avoid "catastrophizing" and ask yourself questions ("how important is it?") to help keep things in perspective. Therapy to talk about your feelings may also help you work through frustration and come up with practical ways to better manage moods.
  • Keep “emergency” snacks on hand. Never wait too long to eat, particularly if you know anger is an issue.
  • Ask for help. Don't hesitate to ask your doctor for a referral to a diabetes educator or nutritionist. Services are also now available to connect you to your own personal diabetes coach.
  • Consider a continuous glucose monitor. Newer technologies can make it much easier to monitor blood sugar and prevent severe fluctuations. If mood swings are an issue for you or someone you love, continuous monitoring may be the safest option.
  • Have a plan. Sudden changes in blood glucose levels can be life-threatening. Talk with your caregivers, family, and neighbors in advance, and be sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Calling knowledgeable paramedics for assistance is the safest option.

What to Do If Your Partner Experiences Mood Swings

It's not your responsibility to make sure your partner consistently eats well, but knowing the crucial role diet plays in managing mood for people with diabetes may help you understand their condition better. Don't underestimate the importance of their diet and regular mealtimes.

If your partner struggles with managing moods as a result of fluctuating blood sugar, talk to them about it. Have a plan in place for emergencies, such as calling paramedics immediately at the first sign of a mood swing or outburst. Your partner should be willing, if not eager, to create an emergency plan for the sake of your and others' safety.

If you're in a relationship that's abusive, it's important to tell someone you trust: a friend, counselor, social worker, or health care provider. Abusive relationships are often isolated ones, where the abused partner lives in secrecy and fear. Telling others breaks the silence and enables you to more easily seek help.

Resources for Domestic Violence

If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, seek help. Here are organizations that can provide referrals and assistance:

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