Avoiding "Responsibility Overload"

Keeping stress levels and your diabetes controlled.

Melissa Conrad StopplerBy Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D.


Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

July 2006 —Like many families, we find ourselves in the midst of back-to-school stress this month. Because our school starts in early August, everything from new schedules to sports and activities are in full swing for the fall semester. This time of year, I always have to regroup, prioritize, and review my sanity-preserving stress management system.

Not that I'm in perfect control of our family's stress – I won't claim that – but I do realize that not only my emotional health, but possible also my physical health, can be compromised by excessive stress. Studies have shown that people living with diabetes who are under psychological stress actually have poorer diabetes control than their calmer counterparts. Hormonal factors in the stress response likely play a role, but lifestyle choices that can affect diabetes control are also affected by stress. Think about it – stressed people are more likely to forget to take medications, to make unhealthy food choices, and to postpone scheduling that doctor's visit than people who aren't stressed-out.

I've found that one essential step in stress control is avoiding what I call "responsibility overload," which is the phenomenon of saying yes to every demand on your time, regardless of your ability to handle the task. Perhaps you recognize some of the signs of "responsibility overload" in your own schedule: Despite a major upcoming deadline and long hours, you find yourself agreeing to organize the office holiday party. Although you serve on several school committees, you still end up in charge of the team fund-raiser. Or you're president of your tenants' association because you hate to let your neighbors down.

Finding things to eliminate (and to decline, in the future) in an overbooked schedule can help you find more time and energy to spend on keeping yourself healthy and managing your remaining commitments. Look closely at how you spend your non-working, non-sleeping hours. Examine your social, family, and community commitments and ask yourself: Is this a true obligation for me? It's up to you to decide which activities you feel are most important and cannot be missed. Do I want to do this? Will this activity or event bring me joy? Will my participation bring joy or happiness to someone important to me? Looking at your schedule with a critical eye will help you target areas in which you can make cutbacks.

Many people assume too many responsibilities because they do not want to be perceived as lazy or unhelpful. For many, learning to say no to others' requests is the most difficult stress control task. It can be helpful to actually rehearse how you will react next time you are asked to take on a responsibility you don't want to accept. Practice the following responses if you need help saying "no":

"I'm not taking on any more charity/volunteer/community/ projects right now."

"Sorry, I'm just not able to plan that far ahead now."

"I've got so much going on that I'm not scheduling anything new right now."

"I really don't feel that I'd be able to provide the required commitment level to do justice to the project."

Remember, you do not owe others an explanation or defense of your choices. Deliver your answer with a friendly smile and refuse to be drawn into a debate or discussion. As with all changes and improvements, learning to free yourself from overloaded and unwanted responsibilities is a skill you can improve with time.

Read more of Melissa's columns here.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 24, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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