If you have bipolar disorder, these tips may help you stay on a more even keel and avoid a full-blown manic episode.
Sharon has bipolar disorder, and over the years she’s learned to know when a manic episode is coming. “I start sleeping less. My brain revs up. I can do twice the work I usually do.” This may sound positive, but Sharon knows it doesn’t last. “It feels good for a little while, until I spin out of control.”
As a result of her manic episodes, Sharon’s marriage ended in divorce, and it’s been hard to keep a job. “My own family doesn’t trust me anymore. And I don’t blame them. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of.” These days Sharon is committed to staying on top of her condition.
The “highs” of bipolar disorder may seem alluring, but they can exact a terrible toll. Knowing your triggers and taking steps to avoid them can help you head off manic episodes and avoid their destructive effects.
Know your triggers
The things that trigger a manic episode vary from person to person, but some common ones include:
- An irregular sleep schedule. People with bipolar disorder seem to be very sensitive to changes in their sleep pattern. Irregular or disturbed sleep can bring on mood episodes.
- Drugs and alcohol. Besides triggering mood swings, they can interfere with sleep and reduce the effectiveness of your medications.
- Stress. Family conflict, work deadlines, financial hardship and similar stressors can often touch off a mood episode.
- Medications. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can trigger mania, including antidepressants, thyroid medication and corticosteroids. Even caffeine and over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines can cause problems.
To learn more about your triggers, keep a mood chart. Use a daily calendar or journal to chart your moods, sleep patterns, stress level and other important information. The more you know about your moods and triggers, the better chance you have of taking action to prevent a manic episode.
Head off a manic episode
By being careful and aware, you may be able to prevent most manic episodes. Try these tips:
- Have a regular sleep routine. Do your best to go to bed and get up about the same time every day. Try to get a full eight hours of sleep every night.
- Stick with your treatment. Don’t be tempted to stop taking your medicine. Quitting your medication can bring on a relapse. If you’re bothered by side effects, talk to your doctor about ways to decrease them.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Drugs and alcohol can trigger mood swings. They can also impair your judgment.
- Be careful with other medications. Talk to your doctor before you take any prescription medications, over-the-counter remedies, herbs or supplements. But never stop a medicine that has been prescribed unless told to do so by your doctor.
- Keep stress in check. Try not to push yourself too hard. Learn some healthy ways to handle stress, such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation.
- Know your warning signs. Use your daily mood chart to alert yourself to mood patterns that point to trouble.
- Have a back-up. Enlist someone you trust who can recognize the signs of a coming manic episode. Make a plan ahead of time with this person about what he or she should do if you start showing manic symptoms.
- Get help at the first sign of mania. A change in your sleep cycle is often a key sign of trouble ahead. Your doctor may be able to adjust your medication to prevent a full-blown manic episode.
Bipolar can be isolating illness. Talking to others who have bipolar can be an important source of information and support. Ask your doctor about local support groups, or find a group through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). To learn more about groups in your area or online, go to the DBSA website (www.DBSAlliance.org) or call toll-free: 800-826-3632.