Diabetes is a multifaceted condition and can be challenging to deal with at times. A comprehensive plan, largely focused on lifestyle changes, is needed make the right choices and develop healthy habits to manage your diabetes successfully long term. One of the keys to making changes and maintaining them is having good problem solving skills, which can help you cope when presented with unforeseen roadblocks and the stress that can result.


Problem Solving: A Key Part of Diabetes Self-Care


Problem solving is an essential skill to develop for effective diabetes self-management. In fact, “problem solving,” along with “healthy coping” are actually included in the seven main areas to focus on according to certified diabetes care and education specialists in their ADCES7– the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists 7 Self Care Behaviors. The ADCES7 is a framework of seven self-care behaviors, which are important areas to concentrate on to make positive changes in lifestyle. Let’s review all the seven self-care behaviors listed below for diabetes before focusing on problem solving and healthy coping in more detail:




  • Healthy Eating: Make healthy food choices, understand portion sizes, read and learn the best times to eat meals. Create healthy eating patterns with a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats based on individual needs and set realistic healthy eating goals.
  • Being Active: Include regular activity for overall fitness, weight management, and blood glucose control. Find simple ways at home, work, and in free time to incorporate activity into your schedule.
  • Monitoring: Engage in regular self-monitoring of blood glucose to assess how food, physical activity, and medications are working and help provide valuable information to your healthcare team to make treatment decisions. Monitoring can also include checking blood pressure and weight.
  • Taking Medication: Understand how medications work, know their potential side effects and how/when to take them. Keep a list of all the medications you are taking, fill prescriptions regularly and take medications at the correct time.
  • Reducing Risks: Know personal risks, schedule regular health check ups and screenings. Engage in effective risk reduction behaviors, such as smoking cessation and regular eye exams, which are examples of self-care that reduce risk of complications.
  • Healthy Coping: Develop good coping skills to deal with the challenges of diabetes and to stay motivated/keep diabetes in control. Acknowledge emotions and learn healthy ways to deal with stress, namely seeking the appropriate support when needed.


  • Problem Solving: In short…learn/know how to problem-solve, in many different ways. Being that it is impossible to plan for every problem encountered day to day that affects diabetes self-management, it is important to learn how to troubleshoot. For example, a high or low blood glucose episode could require making a quick decision about food, activity, or medication. Developing plans for future and repeat issues are helpful to have in place as well.


Understanding Problem Solving


According to the ADCES principles, problem solving includes 3 main steps:


  1. Identify the problem- try to look at what has changed and figure out the cause to help you solve it. For example did you change medications, try a new food, encounter a new social or work situation or experience an illness? Also, try to plan ahead for future changes/challenges when you can such as starting a new job, traveling, holiday eating/special occasions. When faced with a problem, it is important to be honest with yourself about what is happening, to try to understand why, and to learn from it – all of which will likely help you in the future.


  1. Find solutions- attempt to correct the problem using your knowledge and experience, along with any resources and support you have available. Brainstorm about the possibilities, and it can also be helpful to look back on how you successfully dealt with similar problems in the past. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your healthcare team if you need additional help. Let them know what is going on, notify them about any changes you are experiencing, and look to them for information and tools to get on a path towards a solution.


  1. Take action- decide on the best strategy and apply it to try and solve the problem. Be sure to create a plan that is realistic and that you are comfortable with. Then, evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy choice. If it is not effective, you can try another solution – problem solving can be a process of trial and error. Test out new solutions and find what works best for you and stick with those strategies. Correct and learn from the problem-try to solve it in the way that you think makes sense. Get help with your problem, evaluate your solutions and/or improve upon them with the guidance of family, friends and if needed, your doctor/therapist if needed.


Your attitude and outlook can make a big difference when it comes to problem solving as well. Everyone has their own approaches to problem solving – some are more successful, skilled, and positive than others. Some may view a problem as a challenge whereas others may perceive it as a threat. In addition to your attitude about the issue and the skills you possess to approach a problem, factors such as past experience with the problem and knowledge about the disease or condition also can determine how successful you are in dealing with diabetes related issues. Be patient with yourself, and realize it is ok to admit you have a problem. Don’t ignore it or be too hard on yourself. No matter how much you plan to achieve your goals and manage diabetes unexpected problems can come up that you will need to face and deal with. Try to feel empowered that self-care starts with you and that the day-to-day management of your condition is in your hands. By figuring out what the barriers are to your self care and then tackling them, you can be more successful in making the needed lifestyle changes you to treat your diabetes.