Bipolar disorder is defined as a mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression. People with bipolar often struggle to maintain relationships since other people find their extreme highs and lows difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, they also face other struggles. Research indicated adults with bipolar disorder are also more likely to suffer from depression than people without it. They are also more likely to be obese.
It all comes down to cortisol, which is the stress hormone. New observations show that older bipolar patients usually have decreased cortisol activity. Levels of cortisol that are either too high or too low in anyone can cause weight gain and distress, and in bipolar patients, it can wreak havoc on an already stressed system. Bipolar patients with low cortisol levels may have depression, metabolic syndrome and a low quality of life.
A doctoral student at the Department of Clinical Sciences’ Division of Psychology, Martin Maripuu, has studied the correlation between cortisol levels and health in people with bipolar disorder. He noticed that that poor physical health in the form of obesity, metabolic syndrome and dyslipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood) was considerably more common in patients with low cortisol levels in comparison to those with normal or high levels of cortisol. Bipolar patients with low cortisol levels were also depressed to a near double extend than people with normal stress regulation.
Stress is one of the major risk factors for depression, and it’s also a risk factor for cardiovascular disorders. Stress normally contributes to an increased activity in the hormone system that regulates the secretion of cortisol. It is possible that recurrent depressive and manic episodes with a high accumulation of stress will in time lead to an exhaustion of the hormone system. It makes sense—people with bipolar disorder deal with extreme highs and lows for their entire lives, so by the time they reached an advanced age, their systems are off balance.
The good news is, these discoveries could provide researchers with important clues as to how treatment strategies for bipolar disorder and depression can be improved. During these studies, it was noted that no increase of obesity or depression could be seen among the bipolar patients who had been treated with the mood stabilizer lithium for a large portion of their lives. This could means that the beneficial effects that early and continuous lithium treatment has on the course of bipolar disorder may be partially explained by finding that lithium helps prevent the development of hypocortisolism (adrenal glands not producing enough cortisol).
Unfortunately, depression remains a huge issue for people with bipolar disorder. They are statistically twice as likely to be depressed as their non-bipolar counterparts, and they are a whopping five times more likely to have a poor quality of life. This is due to many factors: the instability of their illness, the potential loss of jobs due to their mental disorder, and the difficulties they face with maintaining relationships, romantic or otherwise, just to name a few.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong disease that causes recurrent episodes of both depression and mania. Stress is a known trigger for these episodes, and the depression and mania only add to the patient’s stress levels.
The best thing people with bipolar disorder can do for themselves is to try to lower their stress levels. Here are some tips to help stay stress-free:
- Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies can cope with stress much easier.
- Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar. They can cause a temporary buzz followed by a huge crash.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs entirely. These substances can stress out a mentally healthy person, and to someone with bipolar disorder, they can trigger an episode.
- Get some exercise. Endorphins help reduce stress.
- Talk to your Newport Beach psychiatrist about your stress levels if you are concerned about your bipolar disorder being effected.
- Try deep breathing and meditation. Quieting the mind and relaxing can work wonders.
- Join a support group or look into group therapy. Talking to other people who truly understand what you’re going through can be a huge help. Isolating yourself will only add to your stress.
- If you can help it, try to avoid situations you know will cause you stress and anxiety. If a situation isn’t worth it, remove yourself from it.