To prepare for the possibility of a relapse of bipolar depression, it is important to consider a few ideas about mindset, control, and support.
While bipolar is often equated with mania, it’s bipolar depression that predominates for most people and can be a destructive force in our lives. When the despair finally lifts, it can feel like a joyous return to life. Yet, in the shadows lurks the fear of a return to this dreaded state, particularly since the potential for relapse is not uncommon with a bipolar diagnosis. While there are self-care strategies to help prevent recurrences—like identifying which stressors leave us vulnerable—there are also evidence-based options to help stabilize symptoms so that we may climb out of depression when the darkness does return.
#1 Cultivate Flexible Thinking
Referencing a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Toronto psychotherapist Ivan Staroversky points out that people with a black-and-white thinking style—those who consider themselves either in control or having failed—tend to be most prone to relapse at the first sign of a challenge. A beneficial alternative, then, is to develop a more flexible attitude when considering what you can actually control and how you define and determine failure when managing bipolar symptoms.
#2 Plan Proactively
Create a personal checklist of your preferred and most effective coping strategies and record them in a daily journal to keep healthy reminders at your fingertips. It’s also important to be aware of your personal triggers and causes of mood swings in order to help keep bipolar depression at bay. Recognize that there will be setbacks with any major change, but also that planning for how to handle it will set you up for success.
#3 Nix the Negativity
Researchers are studying whether those who are prone to depression and pay more attention to negative things in their environment have a stronger tendency toward relapse. Some have found that moderating the tendency to focus on negative information or negative interpretations may reduce depressive symptoms. Learning to redirect negative thought patterns through cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness practice, a gratitude journal, and/or other techniques could shift your attentional bias toward the positive.
#4 Find Personalized Treatment
All aspects of treatment—talk therapy, pharmacological prescriptions, etc.—need to be designed specifically for you. There’s no general-purpose plan with it comes to behavioral, emotional, and psychological protocols. However, research does suggest that lifestyle strategies, such as sleep hygiene, exercise routines, and a healthful diet, play a significantly positive role for everyone.
#5 Seek Support
Many people find it essential to have someone they can go to when they need to vent, instead of internalizing their emotions. Attending a support group, whether online or in-person, can help you maintain wellness by breaking through isolation—which is common during depression—by providing a venue for social interaction. Peer support groups also allow individuals and families to learn from others in similar situations about how to best monitor and manage depression symptoms and more.
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs.
As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
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