Bipolar disorder symptoms often include intense stress. Luckily, there are some straightforward strategies that can help quiet the alarm bells.
Living with bipolar disorder can sometimes be a full-time job. As someone with a bipolar II diagnosis, I feel the effects of stress very profoundly. A bad night’s sleep, a medication change, a weather change, and even PMS can send me reeling for days. General life or work stress can send me into a tailspin and sometimes exacerbate or instigate a mood episode. In my experience, learning to manage stress is something that everyone with bipolar needs to learn to do eventually. Here are some reliable techniques that allow me to manage my tension when it builds up to untenable levels.
I find this to be one of the simpler solutions to manage my stress and anxiety. Intense exercise in 30-minute bursts works best for me and my schedule. Even if I can’t fit in a full 30-minute workout at the gym, a short walk around my neighborhood can really help.
Journaling is a great way for me to de-stress. I journal several times a week, and it allows me to see patterns in my emotions and to recognize issues. I try to review my journal entries every few months so I can stay abreast of stress areas. When I recently reviewed my journals from several years ago, before my diagnosis, it became apparent how much my moods influenced my life (in a negative way).
#3 Talk Therapy
Another great way to release stress is to talk it out. My husband doesn’t always want to hear about my problems, so an objective adviser can provide great feedback and helps me to find methods to better manage my stress. It also helps to have a neutral person to bounce ideas off of before I do or say something that could negatively impact my life. A friend can do this, but I find a therapist to be better.
#4 Time with Pets
Spending time with my pets allows me to unwind. After a long day or an exhausting week, I enjoy spending time with one of my four cats, usually one-on-one. Looking into their eyes, hearing them purr, or cuddling with them is a great way to de-stress and experience feelings of calm for me. They remain constant and steadfast companions during times of turmoil.
#5 Time Off from Work or Responsibilities
When I’m feeling especially overwhelmed, I ask my boss for time off from work. My current boss knows about my bipolar diagnosis, but my advice is to proceed with caution when “outing” yourself as having bipolar at work. If you need extra time off from work, a flexible schedule, or the ability to work part-time (either temporarily or permanently), my suggestion is to approach Human Resources before going to your direct supervisor.
This is a great escape for me and allows me to unwind and forget about my problems. Whether I’m reading a travelogue (such as Eat, Pray, Love—I can almost taste the gelato and Italian pasta!), or someone’s memoir. (I recommend The Glass Castle, for the depth of Jeannette Walls’s writing and her ability to overcome abject poverty; and The Bright Hour, by Nina Riggs, or Paul Kalanithi’s excellent When Breath Becomes Air—two memoirs by brave people battling with, and ultimately dying from, cancer). Reading can temporarily transport me to another world, and it allows me to become a more empathetic individual.
This can be inexpensive. A massage can be a great way to de-stress. If you don’t enjoy or can’t afford a professional massage, or have a willing family member, check out a local massage school for reduced rates. A manicure or pedicure is another way to find calm. Local beauty schools have reduced rates. If you can’t swing a professional manicure or pedicure, it’s easy enough to give yourself one at home. My suggestion is to put on some relaxing music and set aside some “me” time. You might also download a meditation app on your phone and, for as little as 5 minutes, experience the serenity that comes with meditation.
#8 Restorative Naps
Napping helps me to both de-stress and press the reset button. When my sleep has been particularly disordered (as does happen with bipolar), or I’m feeling the stress from working full-time, stealing away for an hour or more (when time allows) can literally make me feel like a different person after I wake up. I remain a huge fan of naps.
These are just a few things that I do to successfully deal with the stress that comes from living in the modern world, while also dealing with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. How do you manage stress?
Lisa Acuña is an Orlando-based librarian, and aspiring writer and photographer. She loves the resources available at bphope.com and reads the website daily. She has Bipolar Disorder Type II, and is always looking for ways to best manage her Bipolar. In her free time she enjoys exercise and reading.
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