7 Ways To Stop The Hypomania Train
Riding the hypomania train can feel so great that you don’t want to get off––but it’s imperative that you do in order to effectively manage your bipolar.
Bipolar disorder is defined as extreme changes in mood. The thrilling highs of mania and debilitating lows of depression are easy to recognize, but what about hypomania? Hypomania often disguises itself as happiness. When I’m hypomanic, I appear driven, productive, passionate and positive. I accomplish work tasks ahead of schedule while maintaining a calendar full of personal projects and social activities. My hypomanic behavior has been rewarded by my bosses and admired by my friends. On the outside, I just seem like a successful extrovert. But on the inside, my thoughts are racing so fast I’m unable to enjoy life. And hypomania has a cost. It burns so hot and bright that it can easily transition into mania, which is incredibly destructive and can even be life-threatening.
Hypomania is a brain chemical imbalance just like depression, but people often don’t see anything wrong with it, so they don’t seek help. Because riding the hypomania train can feel great, I often don’t want to debark. I’ve skipped mood-stabilizing medications before because they dampened the intensity of my hypomanic highs. As anyone who’s ever self-adjusted meds knows, destabilizing a treatment schedule is dangerous. Your mental health can quickly be derailed.
So, how do I get my mental health back on the right track?
#1 Recognize hypomania for what it is
Because hypomania isn’t as extreme as mania, it can simply look like you’re a little more motivated than you normally are. Learn to identify your own red flags. I’ve written another article on recognizing hypomania, and you may find some of my symptoms familiar.
#2 Accept feedback from others
You may have heard comments before like “you seem a little more excited than normal,” or “are you getting a little manic right now?” When someone brings hypomania symptoms to my attention, I have to remember they’re offering feedback because they care about me. They’re not trying to be a downer. I used to get defensive, lashing out and telling my loved ones to get off my case. Now, although it’s difficult, I listen to others when they tell me something seems off.
#3 Be willing to ask for help
Accepting help can be one of the hardest things for me to do, especially when I’m hypomanic. I’m already a very independent person, and when I’m experiencing hypomania, I feel invincible. But my perception that nothing can touch me is an illusion. I don’t magically become a superhero when I’m hypomanic. My mom (who’s a psychotherapist) has a great bumper sticker on her car: “Don’t believe everything you think.” Just because I think I’m in control when I’m hypomanic doesn’t mean I actually am. Once I realize I’m hypomanic, I reach out to my treatment team for assistance.
#4 Understand that medication changes may be necessary
Changing meds may be frustrating, but it’s important to be open-minded if your doctor suggests it. Yes, side effects are no fun, but the alternative is worse. Going untreated, or incorrectly treated, can actually re-wire neural pathways and make recovery more difficult down the line. Because bipolar disorder is a moving target, it can be challenging to medicate correctly. You may go through trial and error before you find the right cocktail of prescriptions that work. From weight loss and gain to insomnia, cold sweats and irritability, I probably went through every imaginable side effect in the struggle for equilibrium in my brain. However, I’ve finally found a combination of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers that work great for me. If I can do it, you can too.
#5 Practice a good sleep regimen and stick to it
I have an arsenal of sleep hygiene tools. From my white noise machine to my light-blocking curtains and eye mask, my bedroom is an environment that’s conducive to sleep. I’ve broken the habit of perusing Instagram while lying in bed. I stick to a schedule, and I always get at least seven hours of shuteye every night. I never take naps, because they throw my circadian rhythms out of whack. Because lack of sleep can trigger hypomanic symptoms, getting consistent sleep is crucial to staying healthy.
#6 Limit alcohol and caffeine
I love a good cup of coffee, and I often enjoy having a glass of red wine with dinner. However, both alcohol and caffeine can throw my brain out of whack. If I’m hypomanic, they can push me over the edge. Because caffeine is a stimulant, coffee and caffeinated sodas raise the volume on my already elevated mood. Although alcohol is a depressant, it acts like a stimulant in my body when I’m hypomanic. Alcohol can also lower the effectiveness of many medications, which in turn puts me at greater risk. If I’m hypomanic, I limit myself to one cup of coffee in the morning, and I stop drinking until I’m stabilized.
#7 Make mindfulness a priority
I’ve heard that meditation is helpful for people experiencing hypomania. It may work for you, but if I’m hypomanic, I can’t sit still long enough to do it. Being alone with my thoughts is impossible. However, I’ve found that yoga is a great alternative. Yoga forces me to be mindful of my body and my breathing, and that allows me to calm myself and center my consciousness. Because yoga involves movement, and it’s physically strenuous without being high-impact, I’ve found I can do yoga even while my mind is racing. I see it as a physical challenge, and it’s relaxing to stretch my body and then release poses. I take yoga classes so I’m not in charge of disciplining myself, and by engaging in a group environment, I’m pulled out of my own head.
I used to brush-off my symptoms of hypomania, maintaining a state of denial while speeding through life. It was easy to ignore my illness when I was hypomanic because I felt fantastic. But no matter how exhilarating the hypomania train ride can be, I have to be willing to stop it in order to effectively manage my bipolar disorder.