There are a few very common stressors in a majority of lives. Marriage, changing careers, and moving all rank near the top. These stresses can be enough to rocket a Bipolar mind into unwellness in fairly short order. I do not feel it is a reasonable goal to completely eliminate any and all chance of swinging unwell when dealing with a lot of stress. It’s just not possible. The Bipolar would have to be on top of their mood management 100% of the time plus interpret every indicator correctly. That’s just not going to happen.
What we can do is develop an understanding of how stresses correlate with Bipolar Disorder unwellness. I’ll use moving as an example. “Moving is stressful.” Okay, but why?
I’ve got all this stuff I have to get packed. I only have until this date to do it. I have to get my utilities switched over. I have to ensure I can do something with my perishables if direct transport isn’t an option. Is my former residence in good enough shape to get my deposit back? I might have lost my job or been foreclosed on thus driving the stress factor through the roof.
All those things piled up can push someone manic or it can be so much it crashes them into a nonfunctional depression. It’s easier to understand from a depressive standpoint that a person could look at all of those things and just start to shut down. A Bipolar’s manic side can actually start moving when they are put in a position that forces aggressive, high-stress thought processes. For example, there have been several times that the “Fight or Flight” response has pushed me into a hypomania. When that response kicks in, your body is kicked into a hyper alert state to ensure survival. There are a number of physiological changes that occur in Fight or Flight that also occurs in mania.
In all cases, I believe that the best way to approach staying well through these stresses is to break things down into manageable portions. Sit down with some index cards and write a task that needs to get done on individual cards. Draw a card, keep it with you, and set out to finish that task. Keeping the card with you is going to provide an easily accessible physical focus. While you work on that detail, you want to avoid letting your mind wander about all of the other things you need to do. If you find yourself drifting- stop, read the card again, and recenter your mind on that task. Push all the other thoughts trying to interfere away.
I realize this is probably advice you have heard before. For a Bipolar, it really is a great approach. Unwell periods get moving like a train. They are slow to start but once they build steam they are much harder to stop. Thus, we have a tangible reminder of what we need to get done in our pocket for when our mind starts drifting off. We limit how much time we spend dwelling on this massive task that just seems so insurmountable. Instead we chip away at its base, piece by manageable piece; until it is no longer perceived to be an insurmountable task.
If at all possible, leave yourself enough time to actually do everything without needing to cram it into a single weekend of moving. That may not be feasible for most but I have seen on a number of occasions where a person knew they were moving in a year and waited until a month before they were due to leave to start organizing their packing.
Exerting a greater control over the circumstances that can drive your unwell periods will help you keep them in check. By minimizing those, we can minimize the impact those stresses will have on our mind.
This type of mental management is very effective in minimizing unwell swings. It is difficult to do, but the more you practice the easier it will be.
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