What to Do About Bipolar Disorder and Stress

Bipolar and Stress

We all have stress. Can’t avoid it. Can’t get rid of it. Might as well learn how to deal with it. Right? Wrong. Let’s make a list of our stressors. Pretty long list, eh? I bet we can avoid or get rid of at least a few of them if we really wanted to. It may take some finagling, help from others and a lot of courage, but I bet we can do it.

The problem is we may be too worried about what other people think or hurting someone’s feelings or feeling too guilty to make the changes necessary to reduce our stress. We may be too proud to ask others for help or too embarrassed to let others see how we really are, so we put on our masks and act like everything is fine, thereby increasing our stress.

For those of us with bipolar disorder, this is especially dangerous because stress can trigger mood episodes. According to an article on PsychCentral, “people with bipolar disorder are more prone to stress than the average population.”

Along with the danger of triggering mood episodes, chronic stress can over-produce stress hormones resulting in “chemical imbalances and physical changes in parts of the brain already vulnerable due to bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex shrinks, leading to emotional instability, self-regulation problems, and mood changes.”

So, you can see how important it is to reduce the amount of stress in your life! My doctor told me just that and my response was: “Yeah, right! I’ll just get rid of my kids then.”

There are some stressors we obviously cannot eliminate. However, I have made changes to reduce my stress, even with my kids like making them do more for themselves and not saying yes to every activity they want to do.

I go to support group meetings for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol. In one meeting, there is this one lady in particular who causes me a lot of anxiety whenever I see her. So, I now avoid that meeting even though I like the other people who go there. The stress is not worth it to me. There are too many other meetings I can go to where I don’t feel stressed.

I say “no” to seventy-five percent of the parties I am invited to because of my social anxiety. I know I offend some people because I say no so much, but I don’t care. I used to force myself to go and then get panic attacks while there and sick with anxiety and migraines for days afterwards. I have to eliminate the stress that I can from my life in order to stay balanced and healthy.

Let’s not forget about positive stressors, too. A recent weekend trip to see friends, while fun, left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I came home and crashed for two days straight just to mentally and physically recuperate from lack of sleep and over-stimulation. Fortunately, my husband helped around the house so I could do this.

Before I understood how bipolar works, I would have continued trying to do everything for and with the kids until I crashed into yet another severe depression. I also would have returned from that weekend trip and went on with my week like any “normal” person would have. Only unlike a “normal person,” by week’s end, I would have been in full manic irritability and dissociation. This would have lasted for a week or two followed by a depressive episode lasting for who knows how long. Now, I know good self-care is the key to managing my stress.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to play shrinky-dink with my brain, so

My basic plan when dealing with stress is this:

  • Identify my stressors
  • Get rid of them when possible (e.g., say, “No.”)
  • Avoid them when possible (e.g., remove self from situation)
  • Ask for help
  • Practice good self-care (eat well, sleep well, take meds, have routine)
  • This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – when I am stressed I write.Β  (Guess you know how I am feeling right now.)πŸ˜‰

What helps you deal with the stress in your life?

Going with the Flow – A Meditation


Like a raft floating down river, allowing the current to take it along nature’s path, life has a natural flow for us. To fight it is like trying to paddle the raft up-stream. It will be difficult, tiring, and non-productive.

If we let life lead us along the natural flow of events as they happen, we will have more energy and peace. We will experience a new freedom in not having to fight against the will of others and the situations of things we can’t control.

We will know the true meaning of serenity in loving others right where they are and just as they are whether we agree with what they are doing or what they are like or not.

We will clearly see the ways in which we can change things about ourselves and the situations we are in, for these are the only things over which we have any power.

Today, I will go with the flow of life and let people and things be as they will. I will accept that the only thing I can change is me and I will know peace.

Balance – A Meditation


There’s a lot of pressure from all around us to work, be productive, be healthy, be great, be creative, be fantastic, and to do, do, do! It’s no wonder we end up feeling stressed out, depressed, exhausted, and irritable.

What if we were to look at life as a series of choices? For example, when working we make a conscious choice to stop for a while to play. Likewise, when being productive we make a conscious choice to take time to rest. Furthermore, while we eat our fruits and vegetables, we also have a piece of cake every once in a while.

Balance is the key, but you have to choose to pick up the key and use it. Otherwise the door to a joyous and fulfilling life may remain closed to you.

Today I will pick up the key of balance and I will know peace.

Acceptance – A Meditation

There are many things we have no control over: people, places, things, events, the weather and time passing. This can be frustrating, depressing, and even scary.

There are many things we do have control over: how healthy we eat, how much we exercise, how we respond to life events, to people, places and things, and how well we take care of our health – physically, mentally and spiritually – by going to the doctor, taking our meds, meditating and/or praying.

The key is to accept the things we cannot change and to change the things we can. Acceptance does not mean we have to like them. It simply means we need to acknowledge they are reality and we do not have control over them.

Acceptance does not mean we accept unacceptable behavior from others. We have the right to defend ourselves. We are not meant to be doormats, but we must realize that ultimately, we have no control over the behavior of others, only our own.

Acceptance means letting go of tension, worry, and fear. Acceptance is the relaxing of our shoulders, the unclenching of our fists, the releasing of our jaw, the softening of our eyes, and the slowing of our breath. Today, I will accept the things I cannot change and I will know peace.

Routine – a Meditation


Mental illness can leave us wandering about through our day, unfocused and aimless. Sleeping too much, watching too much television, and other forms of inertia, caused by depression and anxiety, are all too common.

Sometimes routine is a solution to our inactivity problem. Showering and making the bed everyday, doing one small chore every two hours, and eating meals at the same time are all examples of keeping a routine. Writing down our routine or a small list of things to do each day can help us achieve our goals.

I will state my intentions for today by creating a list of one to three things I would like to accomplish, and whether I accomplish them or not, I will know peace.

Taking a Break Meditation


There are going to be times during the course of our illness when we need to take a break from our daily routine. Like it or not, our minds are different from those who do not have mental illnesses. Sure, everyone experiences anxiety, low moods, and irritability. However, those of us with mental health disorders do so at greater intensities. Our threshold for such mood states is much lower. Therefore, we need more downtime, more alone time, more time to process, more time to recuperate, more time to rest.

I will take the time I need to rest when I feel myself becoming overwhelmed with daily life, and I will know peace.

5 Reasons I Hate Leaving My House


Anxiety is a bitch! It has been several years since I have had a full-blown panic attack – the one where you can’t breathe and you think you are dying – but on a regular basis I have bouts of anxiety where my heart races, I get a bit short of breath, and I fear I may go into panic mode. These smaller anxiety attacks, along with some low levels of depression, are enough to make leaving the house a big chore for me.

Top 5 Reasons I Hate Leaving My House

1) Showering takes more energy than I have on most days. And then there is the fixing of the hair, and OMG! make-up, and God-forbid getting out of my pajama pants. I mean, come on…that’s a lot to ask of a girl. By the time I do all of that I am ready for a nap!

2) Driving is stressful. I live in a busy metropolitan area and traffic is heavy. Patience, concentration, and sometimes aggressiveness are needed to safely navigate the roads around here – all of which I basically lack.

3) Social anxiety. Leaving the house often means going to some sort of social event, and I don’t feel comfortable around other people because small talk is like nails on a chalk board to me! I’m definitely an introvert and prefer to be alone or with my immediate family. Also, if it is a larger party, the noise and extra stimuli is overwhelming to my senses.

4) Fear of public places. Leaving the house also often means going to the store or some other public venue where crowds gather and strangers abound. Yikes! What if I see someone I know? What if I get mugged? Kidnapped? How claustrophobic I feel standing in lines and squeezing down isles. How it makes me lose my breath to bump into others or feel them in my physical space! And again, the noises, lights, and movement are all overwhelming to my senses.

5) Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is an intense fear and anxiety of being in places where it is hard to escape, or where help might not be available. This would explain why if my husband is with me, I feel much less anxious when out of the house. He drives, I stick by him during parties, and follow him through the stores. Now if only he could shower for me.πŸ™‚

Although I hate leaving the house, I do force myself to on a regular basis. Sometimes I have to take an anti-anxiety pill before I leave and sometimes I don’t. I think it is important for me to desensitize myself to these stressful situations as much as I can, because if I don’t my anxiety will only get worse.

I also grade the tasks in a way that will make them more successful for me. For example, when I go to the grocery store I only get a few items at a time, and leave the big list for my husband (he’s the best!) When my daughter has a 3-day sports tournament in a loud crowded gym, I will only attend one or two of the days. When going to a social event, we will only stay a short while or not go at all if I am not feeling up to it. We go out to eat early in the evening (with all the old people) so we don’t have to wait for a table. These are just a few examples of how I compensate for my increased anxiety.

As you can see, there are ways around anxiety. It doesn’t have to make you a prisoner of your own home. Although, sometimes it will. But it doesn’t have to all of the time.

How does your anxiety limit you, and what are some ways you have found helpful to decrease these limits?

3 Simple Ways to Combat Worry


I am a worrier. Worry is one of the major symptoms of depression, and I have come to accept the fact that worrying is a part of who I am. Some days are better than others, but overall, my mind is usually running amuck with worrisome thoughts. Here are some ways in which I try to combat the worry in my life:

1) Practice Mindfulness

I try to stay focused on what is happening in the present moment. I asked myself, What am I seeing right this very second with my eyes? What do I hear? What task am I performing and how does that feel? For example, the laptop is hard and flat on my legs. The keys are small and black, and the cursor blinks methodically as I sit and think of what to type next. I am staying in the moment, not thinking of past or future events – not worrying! Being mindful by engaging in productive activity is one of the best ways I know of to stop worrying.

2) Prayer

I am not a religious person, per se, but I am a spiritual person. I believe in a higher power that gives me strength to deal with what comes my way in life. I have a plaque hanging on my wall that says, “God doesn’t give us what we can handle, He helps us handle what we are given.” I truly believe this, if we only ask for His help via prayer. It has always worked for me. Not always in the time frame that I want, but has worked eventually, nonetheless.

3) Talking with others

When I share my worries with others, especially others who have had similar fears, it seems to unburden the worries from my mind. It’s as if naming them aloud releases the power they have over me. By telling trusted friends how I am feeling, I also get the benefit of their insight and wisdom on how they dealt with the same worries, and their now broader perspective on the issues. It is also just nice to know that I am not alone in my struggles.

Are you a worrier? Is there a particular worry you can’t shake? How do you cope with worry?

This post is linked to Write into the Light’s Weekend Mental Health Writing Prompt – Worry.

Daily Meditation – Fear Not


Fear can dominate our lives. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the past. Fear of the future. Fear of all that is, of all that isn’t. It is an agonizing state in which to live. It is a state of mind, not a state of reality, in most cases.

If we can train ourselves to stay in the present moment, in the moment of what task is at hand, then fear cannot survive. What are you doing right this moment? Reading this meditation perhaps. What fear is there in this task? When you are making your bed, doing your dishes, taking your shower, what fear is there in that? None. It is the thoughts you have outside of those actions that cause you fear.

Keeping our minds focused on exactly what we are doing in the moment can eliminate much of the fear in our lives. It is not easy, but it is simple. It is worth striving for if only to gain a little peace in our day, minute by minute.

Daily Meditation – The Present Moment


Life sometimes seems life a series of accidents, like things are spinning out of control. Scary, anxiety-producing, unknown. It can cause us to freeze in our tracks like a deer in headlights, just waiting for the impact take us out. Rarely does this ever happen. Our fears build up scenarios in our heads that make things more unbearable than they really need to be.

If only we could take a moment to stop our thoughts and concentrate on our breathing. Take a deep breath. Do the next right thing. Take it one step at a time. Have faith that if we only take care of what is in front of us – whether it be a daily task, a job responsibility, a self-care activity, a social commitment – the future will take care of itself.

For the future is never with us, only the present moment is. It is only in the present moment where we can take the actions that will make a difference in our quality of life. It is only in the present moment where we can find peace.