Bipolar Disorder and Irritability

Everyone gets irritated at times especially if they are hungry or tired. People with bipolar disorder are often more sensitive to fluctuations in their internal and external environment and can become more agitated, anxious, sad, or angry than the situation would warrant for those without bipolar disorder. Examples of these fluctuations include:

Internal triggers

  • Hunger
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue
  • Being cold or hot
  • Pain

External triggers

  • Noises
  • Lights
  • Other people’s emotions or moods
  • Tactile input such as touch by clothing or other people
  • Smells

Some ideas to help combat these triggers

  • Eat at regular intervals and always carry snacks and water with you when you leave the house.
  • Talk to others, journal or exercise when angry or if you are in a 12-step program work the steps on it.
  • Make contact with people in real life on a regular basis.
  • Go to bed and get up around the same time everyday.
  • Dress in layers and always keep a jacket or coat in the car. You never know when a restaurant or store will be extra cold. Keep a cold wet cloth in a small cooler during hot weather to place on your forehead or the back of your neck.
  • Always carry pain reliever with you when you leave the house.
  • Use ear plugs that cut down on the decibel level of the environmental noise.
  • Wear a hat or sun glasses to shade the light.
  • Practice setting boundaries and blocking out other people’s emotions.
  • Remove yourself from situations where other people’s emotions and behaviors cause you distress.
  • Cut the tags out of clothing.
  • Wear comfortable clothing like loose shirts and elastic waist pants.
  • Remove yourself from noxious orders or keep a cloth with you that has a scent you like on it to bring to your nose when you can’t get away from a smell.

What are some of your triggers and how do you deal with them?

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Bipolar Triggers

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There are external stimuli that trigger my bipolar symptoms. Strict schedules, time constraints, too much time out of the house, and extended family gatherings all wreak havoc on my mood stability. My anxiety sky rockets and, if left too high for too long, it triggers a major depressive episode.

Seasonal changes affect my moods as well. Each spring, without fail, as the grass turns green and tree buds bloom, so does my hypomania.  It lasts for about four to six weeks, fading out as the end of the school year approaches, which brings me to another trigger: change.

Each summer when my young children start summer break and each fall when they return to school, a mood shift occurs. Summer is unpredictable. It could be a return to stable from the hypomania of spring.  It could be a dip into depression.  In the fall, it is always a fall into depression. 

I’ve learned to manage my triggers by avoiding them whenever possible or at least by limiting them when appropriate. I say no to, not all but, most volunteer work. I limit my social commitments.  I get extra rest when pushed beyond what is comfortable for me.

I have to protect my mood at all costs. Does it always work?  No. Some things in life are just unavoidable. I have to cook and clean and run my kids places and show up for some commitments.  Sometimes these things all fall on the same week or day, and that’s when things get scary. That’s when I close my eyes and hope for the best while using the skills I learned in DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) as best I can. 

If my mood doesn’t bounce back after my external world settles down, that’s when I talk to my doctor about a medication change.  It happens a lot, and that’s Ok.  I have to stay on top of this bipolar thing. It’s a matter of life and death.

What are your triggers?  How do you deal with them?