Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that is characterized by its mood swings. A person with bipolar disorder will experience alternating “highs” (periods of mania) and “lows” (periods of depression). The highs and lows can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks or even months, depending on the person and the situation. While there is no cure, the best way to treat bipolar disorder is usually a combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep and treatment from a mental health therapist.
Living with bipolar disorder is often like a roller coaster ride. The extreme highs and lows of the disease can disrupt the lives of the patient, family and friends. To make bipolar disorder more manageable, it is important to know things that might trigger the episodes of mania and depression. While every patient is different, there are some common triggers that many patients share.
Not getting enough sleep is one of the most common triggers. If you have bipolar disorder, sudden changes in your sleep patterns will be all it takes to send you spinning into mania or depression. If you’re a student or switch your shifts at work often, take extra time to adjust your sleep schedule as slowly as possible. Do everything you can to get adequate rest.
Using alcohol or drugs is another common trigger. While there are some bipolar patients who are able to have the occasional drink if they lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle, drinking alcohol can be a slippery slope and is not advised if you’re on medication. Using illicit drugs alters the brain chemistry, which can lead to mood swings. Unfortunately, people with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of substance abuse, so it’s best to avoid them entirely.
A terrible argument or bad break-up is another typical trigger. While this would be upsetting to anyone, a person with bipolar disorder may have an especially difficult time processing emotions during a bad argument or a split. Whether or not you have the disorder, contacting your local counseling center after a difficult break-up is advised to help you emotionally.
Starting a new antidepressant or medication is a common but surprising trigger. While recent studies haven’t done much to prove that antidepressants lead to mania in bipolar patients, many psychiatrists say they’ve seen patients enter a manic phase after starting a new antidepressant. Other medications that have been linked to manic episodes are thyroid medications, appetite suppressants and corticosteroids. Anyone with bipolar disorder should always disclose their condition to a physician before starting new medication.
While it’s certainly possible to monitor your bipolar disorder even while you’re mourning, grief is also a common trigger of both depression and mania. The death of a loved one may be the most stressful life event anyone will ever face. Some patients develop “funeral mania,” which occurs when someone with bipolar disorder attends a funeral and almost instantly has a manic episode. Sometimes this can be avoided with proper preparation and help from the patient’s therapist.
For more information, or a consultation, contact Dr. Lawrence Tucker, a psychiatrist in Costa Mesa.