In a year that has tested all of our tried-and-true coping strategies for our bipolar symptoms, the arrival of a new season presents a new challenge: How can we navigate mood episodes while staying physically distant? Here are my ideas.
Season Changes & Mood Disturbances
As the seasons change, have you noticed a change in your mood? Personally, I have noticed a tendency to be more “up” during spring and autumn. Those of us with bipolar disorder can be very sensitive to these “transitional seasons.”
And the science backs it up. According to one study, hypomanic and manic symptoms peaked around the autumnal equinox (August–October). This significant peak in severe manic symptoms occurred for people living with bipolar I and bipolar II. Researchers also observed a peak in severe depressive symptoms around the winter solstice (November–January) for those with bipolar I disorder. In other words, if you really struggle with manic, depressive, or mixed symptomatology during this time of year, you are not alone!
Given that 2020 has created drastic shifts in our lifestyles and routines, figuring out how to cope with symptoms presents a new challenge. Activities that may have helped in the past (e.g., hitting up the gym, outings with friends, going to a restaurant) may not currently be feasible. In the context of this global public health crisis, we must become flexible and creative in our approaches to combating seasonal mood disorder symptoms. This got me thinking: What are some ways to safely navigate our symptoms while maintaining physical distancing?
#1 Find Your Inner Artist
During college, I volunteered with an organization that had students do arts and crafts with patients, which showed me how art can be healing. During my manic episode in 2015, “adult coloring books” were super trendy. Luckily, I had colored pencils and plenty of designs to work on while hospitalized. Other patients loved it as well! I find the process of making art to be soothing. Maybe you will, too. Why not try out a new type of creative hobby?
Here are some examples to get you started:
There are plenty of how-to videos, examples, and guides online, such as on Pinterest. You can even display your final products around your home! Get inspired!
#2 Write It Out
I didn’t get into writing until I created my blog a couple of years ago. However, I’ve found that I love this way of expressing myself. I also like that it connects me with others, people who relate to my posts and articles. For those who are at ease in the public forum, blogging might be an option. Or, if you prefer to write in solitude or feel more comfortable keeping your thoughts private, you can start a personal journal. Writing has allowed me to connect with people online with similar interests and backgrounds. The writing community is awesome and definitely worth checking out!
#3 Get Moving
Don’t have access to a gym, studio, or cardio class? No problem! There are a ton of options online, many for free! YouTube has a ton of guided class videos, such as for yoga and even for high-intensity workouts as well. It can be fairly easy to get started, and typically it is pretty low-cost. For example, I just bought a yoga mat and have been trying out “beginner” yoga tutorials uploaded online.
Many studios have also hosted free, live virtual classes recently on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. There is a surprising variety of options to choose from, such as Zumba and Barre classes. Also, if exercising seems a bit overwhelming for you, even a brief walk outdoors could be a mood booster! You can make your exercise informal, too, by simply putting on some tunes and dancing around. Super easy and fun!
#4 Bring the Restaurant to You
Even if going out to a restaurant may not be safe, you can bring the restaurant to you! Many places have to-go or curbside pickup options. Another possibility is to try out new recipes inspired by your favorite restaurant cuisine! You can dress up your dining area with a few candles to create a relaxing dining atmosphere, too. This year, I’ve tried out many different recipes, including Indian butter chicken. It has been fun to learn new cooking styles and experiment in the kitchen!
#5 Virtual Hangouts
Maintaining your social connections may be a bit harder now. How can we stay safe and still hang out with friends and loved ones? Well, virtual hangouts are a popular option. You could host a virtual movie or game night. There are also other group activities that can be done online, such as joining a virtual exercise class together. Some are holding book club meetings online. You could have a painting night! There are so many options! The important thing is to remain connected to others. Socially isolating yourself can be triggering when it comes to depressive episodes. Try to schedule a few social events, even if depression is keeping you from feeling very social. A simple conversation, I’ve found, can make a significant improvement to your day.
#6 Learn Something New
I’ve discovered that keeping busy can really help me remain stable. One of the ways in which I’ve kept busy is by taking free online courses. There are websites (e.g., Coursera) that allow users to explore many different topics. Depending on your interests, you can build up your existing skills or explore a completely new subject just for fun. Many classes are self-paced, so there isn’t really a pressure to complete lessons within a specific timeframe. It is much more relaxed. There are so many topics to choose from online. Dive deep and learn something new to keep your mind occupied on something positive and restoring!
Seasonal Uncertainty & Creativity
I understand that this time of year can be really challenging, especially during a year full of uncertainty and transitions. Creative approaches to keep our mood at baseline may take some “out of the box” thinking. Keep social with virtual hangouts. Explore new hobbies, courses, recipes, exercises, and interests. Use this time to try out new things. The possibilities are endless!
Have any other suggestions? Please let me know what has been working for you in the comments below!
Anja Burcak is a freelance journalist and blogger with a passion for mental health advocacy. She often writes about mania, depression, and anxiety, from a first-person perspective. Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (Type 1) in 2016, she has insight into the struggles many face with finding the right diagnosis, treatment, and providers. Anja often uses creative approaches for psychoeducational purposes, including forms such as social media posts, drawings, infographics, and photography. She hopes that sharing her story on her The Calculating Mind WordPress blog will create more open, honest conversations about mental illnesses, fighting the stigma one post at a time. She plans to expand to new mediums and platforms, including vlogging, podcasts, mental wellness apps, and blog collaborations. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.
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