The exact hurdles vary from person to person, depending on your health, your work schedule, and your type of employment. But there are effective measures everyone can take to successfully handle type 2 diabetes, no matter what type of work you do:
1. Get it out in the open.
"Many people don’t understand diabetes and what it means to have and manage the condition,” says Shelley Wishnick, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator at the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City. “Ideally, everyone in the workplace should be educated on diabetes and how it is managed in order to promote a healthier, more productive, and supportive working environment.”
That said, you might not feel comfortable discussing your diabetes at work. At the very least, consider confiding in at least one or two co-workers — tell them about the possibility of your having a low blood sugar episode, the symptoms to watch for, and what they can do to help you in a crisis, says Karen Kemmis, CDE, DPT, a certified diabetes educator, physical therapist, and exercise physiologist at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
Dr. Pena also suggests telling your supervisor about your need for designated mealtimes, something she says "is especially important if you have frequent episodes of low blood sugar.”
2. Plan to check blood sugar and take medication.
Depending on your comfort level and work space, you might be able to do quick blood sugar checks right at your desk, or you might need to find a private place, such as an office with a closed door or a rest room. “No matter where you check your blood sugar, consider putting everything you need in a little pouch you can unzip and lay out on your work surface,” Kemmis says.
If you take diabetes medications, take them at set times you will remember, such as before a daily morning meeting or with lunch. You might also schedule reminders on your work email or on your phone to make sure you take medications on time.
“If you have a work schedule that simply doesn’t allow for a fixed break or lunchtime, talk to your physician about adjusting your medication," Pena says. "For example, you may need a diabetes medication that is shorter-acting that can be taken only if you eat.”
If you take insulin, you might not want to do an injection in front of co-workers. “As an alternative, consider using an insulin pen, which is more discreet, or an insulin pump, which sends the insulin into the body with the touch of a button on a device,” Kemmis suggests.
3. Eat well during work hours to stay on track.
“The key with healthful eating is to plan ahead,” Kemmis says. “Bring food to work so you have control over what you eat and aren’t tempted to order fast food, use vending machines, or eat food that has been brought in to share.”
Easy options for lunch and snacks include:
- Salad with grilled chicken
- Cheese sticks
- Fresh fruit
- Raw vegetables with low-fat yogurt dip
4. Stay active at work.
Physical activity is one of the most important parts of diabetes management. If you’re on your feet at work, activity is probably built into your day, but it can be harder if you have a desk job. “A lot of companies are starting to care about employee health and are developing programs such as chair yoga or lunchtime walking groups," says Despina Hyde, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. She suggests checking with the human relations office at your company and taking advantage of what’s available. If your company doesn’t currently offer a program, you might ask if they’d be willing to start one. Or you could organize something like a lunchtime walk group on your own.
Also, "get up during the day and move around, take a walk outside if you can, visit a co-worker’s desk instead of calling them, and take the stairs as much as possible," Hyde says.
5. Take care of your feet.
People with diabetes are more prone to foot problems than are others, according to the American Diabetes Association. This may be a particular concern if you work on your feet.
To make sure your feet are in good health, practice good foot care at home, including washing and checking your feet for cuts each day. At work, Hyde suggests putting your feet up when you are sitting and moving your toes and ankles up and down. Do this for five minutes every hour or so to keep the blood flowing. Also be sure to always wear comfortable shoes and socks or hosiery.
It can take a little work to manage diabetes when you’re at work — but using these tips can help keep your blood sugar in check and your time on the job easier.