Self-care. It seems self-explanatory; after all, the term indicates caring for the self. But why is self-care so hard to accomplish, especially for people who suffer from bipolar disorder?
The answer is easy. When we’re manic or hypomanic, we’re usually too busy to settle down and care for ourselves. If we’re depressed, caring for ourselves is the last thing we want to do (mostly because we don’t want to do anything at all).
That must change. Caring for ourselves is putting an oxygen mask on. Self-care is crucial for our daily functioning. We must take self-care seriously to make the most of our lives. July 24th is international self-care day. Why not practice self-care?
Some people believe the self-care is limited to taking bubble baths and painting their toenails. But there are so many more ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 10 self-care ideas for people suffering from bipolar disorder.
Self-care Ideas for When You’re Manic
When you’re manic, life is go go go. In my experience, I barely slow down enough to take a breath. Here are my recommendations for self-care when you’re manic:
Pause for two minutes, and take deep breaths. I know stopping whatever you’re focused on when you’re manic is incredibly difficult and the last thing you want to do, but hear me out. Mania spends energy you don’t actually have. If you’re constantly on the go, you’re going to wear yourself out. Pausing for two minutes and taking deep breaths will help your brain reset.
Take a bath. When I’m suffering from a bipolar mood episode, my hygiene goes out the window. This is especially true during depressive episodes, but also can happen during mania. Being clean may help you feel better, and if you slow down enough to take a bath during mania, the hot water may relax you a little. Bubbles are optional.
Sleep. During manic episodes, sleep is your best friend. Aside from medication, sleep is the number one way you can reset your brain back to a non-altered state. Dim the lights, stop using screens two hours before bed, do some deep breathing exercises (see tip #1), and by all means, rest.
Limit yourself to one easy project. My mania manifests as crafting binges. I dive into embroidery or painting projects, and neglect everything around me and even myself until I produce something. I’m always rushing, so these projects never turn out well. I also bounce between projects. I highly recommend sticking to one easy project, so you’re not leaving half-finished projects lying around.
Exercise. Since you have plenty of energy to burn during mania, burn it. Put on a workout video. Run some laps. Climb your stairs up and down. Anything to get your heart rate up and tire you out.
Self-care Ideas for When You’re Depressed
Depression is a beast. You feel awful and don’t have the energy to do anything. So what can you do? Here are some self-care ideas for when you’re depressed:
Go outside. Rising from your bed is the last thing you want to do. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift even if only slightly.
Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand. Clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.
Drink water. Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Focus on drinking a gallon of water over the course of a day. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.
Socialize with an actual person. Call a supportive friend. Check in with your family. Go out to the store and say hello to the cashier. When we’re depressed, we often isolate ourselves, which makes depression worse. Don’t do that.
Say “no” to some things. Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering from depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.
Self-care for people who suffer from bipolar disorder doesn’t have to be difficult. Keep in mind your various struggles when you’re depressed and manic, and tailor your self-care to those episodes. Showers, sleep, and indulging in things that make you happy are crucial to your well-being.
Alcohol, the social lubricant. Some people drink because alcohol relaxes them in social situations. The drink isn’t called “liquid courage” for nothing.
But alcohol is an addictive substance, which has great potential to be misused, especially by people who also suffer from bipolar disorder.
The Connections Between Alcohol Use and Bipolar Disorder
Studies have shown that people who abuse alcohol are more likely to have bipolar disorder. According to a 2013 review, up to 45% of people with bipolar disorder also have alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Overwhelming feelings of sadness from bipolar depression make people more likely to self-medicate with substances like alcohol. And self-medicating makes it more likely for people with bipolar disorder to not stick to their medication regime or attend therapy sessions.
Alcohol also affects people with bipolar disorder in different ways than the neurotypical population.
A 2006 study showed that people with bipolar disorder are adversely affected by even small amounts of alcohol, which may both trigger and worsen manic and depressive symptoms.
Mania is known to increase impulsiveness. Because alcohol reduces inhibitions, consuming alcohol during a manic episode may encourage risky and irrational behaviors.
Alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, also contributes to lethargy and sadness during depressive episodes. The symptoms of depression triggered by alcohol are increased when people first stop drinking, so recovering alcoholics with a history of depression may relapse in the first few weeks of dealing with withdrawal.
People who suffer from psychosis triggered by manic episodes are also adversely affected by alcohol. Consuming alcohol during psychosis contributes to both long-term and short-term complications. Alcohol also complicates the treatment of psychosis, contributing to dangerous medication interactions.
How Alcohol Affects Medications
Medications that are part of your treatment plan are strongly affected by alcohol.
Valproic acid, known commonly as Depakote, is often prescribed to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. Similar to alcohol, Depakote is a central nervous system depressant which affects the liver. Combining alcohol and Depakote increases the chance of liver damage.
Similarly, consuming alcohol with lithium, which is frequently prescribed to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder, can contribute to liver disease. Lithium has side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, lethargy, and tremors, all of which alcohol can increase.
Antidepressants and antipsychotics may not work as well when combined with alcohol. Side effects can be increased, and you may feel more depressed and anxious.
You may decide to skip your medication in order to drink. This is a bad idea, as your symptoms of bipolar disorder may return quickly, triggering an episode. Stopping your dosages of medications without tapering off under the guidance of a professional is detrimental to your mental and physical health.
Alternatives to Alcohol
Alcohol can help you relax and socialize. Cutting down on alcohol can be difficult. It may be helpful to replace some of your drinking with relaxing habits.
Some alternatives to having a drink are:
Getting a massage
Attending a yoga or taekwondo class
Taking a warm bath
Drinking responsibly takes on a whole new level when you suffer from bipolar disorder. You not only need to be aware that drinking, especially to excess, triggers and worsens manic and depressive episodes, but also that your medication may interact poorly with the substance.
I’m not saying to cut all alcohol out of your life if you have bipolar disorder. If you are a responsible adult, there is no reason you can’t drink. But be aware of the complications alcohol brings to your life. You may find it easier to abstain.
Self-care is crucial to your functioning. It’s taking responsibility for your own health. When I called a warmline and told the operator my depression was overwhelming me, he told me I “needed a big dose of self-care.”
But taking care of yourself is so much more than bubble baths and painting your toenails. There are so many ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 100 doable self-care ideas for when you’re suffering from depression. Don’t feel that you need to do all of this list; one or two can contribute to a better mood.
100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression
Be patient with yourself. Being patient with yourself is one of the best ways you can practice self-care. If you’re mindful and allow yourself to let your negative emotions wash off you like water off a duck’s back, then the depression won’t be able to impact you as badly. If you’re patient with yourself and allow yourself to roll with the punches, then you’ll feel better.
Practice self-care in snippets. Ideally, you’d have more than an hour to spend on yourself. But the busy people and parents among us don’t have that luxury. If you can, practice some of these ideas in 5-minute bursts throughout the day.
Talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. Depression makes you feel as if you can’t control your thoughts. But you can! You can talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. If you do that, then depression won’t make as much of a foothold in your life. You’ll still experience awful, overwhelming feelings, but you can control how you react to them.
Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Get mad and punch a pillow. Feel sad and cry. Feel happy, and smile. You are allowed.
Drinkwater. Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Take a day to focus on drinking a gallon of water. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.
Eat just enough nutritious food to feed your body. When I’m depressed, I either overeat or don’t eat anything at all. I highly recommend pacing yourself, and eating just enough nutritious food to feed your body. For 22 easy meals to make while you’re depressed, click here.
Indulge in some ice cream or another sweettreat. Depression is no time to stick to a diet. You’re in crisis mode. Give yourself permission to indulge once in a while.
Set realistic expectations. I have a to do list that’s regularly 15-20 items per day. Even if I didn’t sleep, I wouldn’t be able to complete the list. Don’t do what I do. Set realistic expectations for your day. If that’s only drinking water (tip #5) or eating a nutritious meal (#6), that’s fine.
Try to think of 5 things that you are grateful for. If you pray, pray a prayer of gratitude. Try to think of 5 things that you are happy to have, like physical health, shelter, food, clean water, sick days at work, or whathaveyou.
Text someone. If you have someone like a supportive friend or family member, text them and let them know that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be reminded that you’re not alone. If you don’t have a friend or family member, then email me, and I promise that I will email you back.
Go outside. Rising from your bed is the last thing you want to do. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift.
Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand. Studies show clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.
Say “no” to some things. Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.
Say “yes” to things you normally enjoy. Saying “yes” to things you normally enjoy may help lift your mood.
Take your medication and attend therapy sessions. Taking your medication daily is crucial for your mental health. Trust your treatment team to have your best interests at heart.
Get enough sleep, but not too much. Sometimes when we’re depressed, we can sleep too little or too much. Making sure you have good sleep hygiene is so important to your daily functioning,
Play. Playing is a fantastic way to lift your mood. When I’m consciously practicing self-care, I set some time aside to play my favorite video game, Kingdom Hearts. An operator on the warmline I called told me that if killing virtual monsters helps me feel better, “then slaughter away!”
Avoid or reduce caffeine. Caffeine can make you feel wired and awful. Try a cup of herbal tea instead.
Write down your to-dos, but don’t write too many. Setting yourself a few miniature goals during the day will help give you clarity and focus. Just don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks, like I often do.
Cull or avoid social media. Social media is a pit sometimes. People have nasty fights about political issues or curate their “perfect” lives. Try to avoid Facebook and Twitter while you’re depressed, and only friend people you personally know.
Journal. Write down everything that comes to mind until you can’t write anymore. You don’t need to examine these feelings later, just work through them now.
Take a shower or a bath. Hygiene is often neglected during depressive episodes. I know it’s the first thing that goes out the window when I’m depressed. Make sure to take time to shower or bathe and you’ll feel loads better.
Brush your teeth. Similar to bathing, one of the things I struggle with when I’m feeling down is brushing my teeth. Take care of your mouth and it will take care of you.
Read a book. Studies have shown that six minutes of reading a book lowers stress and anxiety. Feel free to indulge in one of the best pastimes.
Write a list of compliments about yourself. Writing a list of compliments about yourself is probably one of the hardest ideas for self-care to put into practice when you’re depressed. But trashing yourself doesn’t help. Try to compliment your bouncy hair, your intelligence, or your ability to keep Fido alive.
Stroke a pet. Speaking of Fido, stroking a pet has been proven to increase dopamine and improve mood. If you don’t have a pet, curl up with a cuddly toy.
Paint. You don’t have to be an artist to paint. Painting, like coloring, calms the soul, and is a cheap activity to start. All you need is some paint, some water, paper, and some brushes.
Buy yourself flowers or a scented candle. Don’t wait for someone else to buy you flowers. Show yourself some love.
Bake something delicious. Baking can be calming and meditative, and you’ll end up with a tasty product at the end of it.
Declutter your clothes. Decluttering sounds like a chore, and an overwhelming one at that, but getting rid of excess items can be immensely freeing and satisfying.
Dance. Put on some energetic music and dance like no one is watching. If you get your heart rate up, you’ll probably feel better.
Fix a small annoyance. If something has been bugging you, just fix the problem, or make a plan to fix it.
Listen to music. When I’m feeling down, music tends to lift me up again, or–in the case of energetic music played on my headphones–gets me going. Play your favorite pop songs, classical tunes, or hard rock music. Whatever you’re into, give relaxing by listening a try.
Avoid the news. Take a break from all the negativity on the news. Most news is trying to sell you something, be it a product that will supposedly make you feel better, or a bad attitude which will cause you to turn to retail therapy. Depression and the news cycle don’t mix.
Don some comfy clothes. Putting on comfortable clothes that usually make you feel like a million bucks may help you feel better when in the midst of depression.
Paint your toenails. Yes, painting your toenails is the cliché, quintessential form of self-care, but it deserves to be mentioned because it’s what most people think of when they think self-care. Painting your toenails can be expressive, creative, and relaxing.
Take a multi-vitamin. Taking a multi-vitamin may not seem like it will do much for immediate self-care. It’s true that vitamins require a cumulative effect in order to work well, but even taking one can help your body operate better.
Go to bed at the same time every night.
And then rise at the same time every morning. Good sleep hygiene is crucial for getting good sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and subsequently rising at the same time every morning are excellent ways to ensure that you sleep well.
Plan out your day the night before. Part of planning your day out the night before is setting to do lists (tip #19). This is a great aspect of self-care. If you set yourself reasonable expectations of yourself the night before, you’re more likely to get the things done on the day of. You won’t flounder without a plan.
Eat breakfast daily. Breakfast is colloquially known as the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating breakfast daily can lower our chances of obesity and high blood pressure.
Put some lotion all over your body.
Groom yourself. Shave your legs if you’re into that, pluck your eyebrows, brush your hair for a longer period of time than usual. If you’re freshly-groomed, you may feel better.
Learn something new.
Try breathing in some essential oils. Some essential oils, like lavender and cinnamon, have a calming effect on the mind and body.
Blow yourself a kiss in the mirror. You might feel silly showing yourself some love, but just try it.
Watch your favorite movie.
Find a way to give. Being generous to others inspires an attitude of gratitude, and helps you feel better about yourself. Try volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen.
Drink a hot cup of coffee or tea.
Go to the library. Taking a few moments to be among books can be rejuvinating, especially if it’s in total silence and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Go dig in the dirt. Digging in the dirt can raise your heartrate and help you indulge your connection to nature.
Play a game of solitaire.
Play a cooperative board game with friends and family.
Stretch. Stretching your shoulders can help relieve tension.
Try adult coloring books. Coloring relaxes many people. Adult coloring books have more complicated pictures to delight the senses.
Double recipes. When you have the energy to cook, try doubling or tripling a recipe and freezing the excess for another meal on another day. If you meal prep ahead of time, then you won’t have to worry about cooking on days when you just can’t do anything productive.
Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place that soothes you.
Take a cat nap.
Make a craft. Engaging in your creative side is one of the best ways to relax.
Stop “shoulding” on yourself. “Should” is, overall, a negative word, which places a lot of undue expectations on yourself. Take “should” out of your vocabulary.
Listen to a podcast or TED talk.
Watch a comedian on YouTube.
Educate yourself on a problem you have. If you are facing an illness or a problem, do some research on what the issue is so you can make a plan of attack. Learn about what you’re facing so you can know what to expect and where to get support.
Browse your favorite blog.
Write a good review of a place or restaurant you actually enjoy going to.
Attend a group or individual therapy session. Therapy is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, provided you have a good therapist. Online support groups can help as well.
Make a Spotify playlist.
Ask a good friend to name three things he or she loves about you.
If you can’t give up social media, dedicate a week to saying only positive things on your favorite platform. Not allowing yourself to engage in negativity will help your mood.
Name your emotions without judging them. Naming your emotions without judging them is similar to allowing yourself to feel your feelings (tip #4), but this time, you identify what you’re feeling. Putting a name to your emotions helps you control them.
Tell your pet your darkest secrets. Your pet will still love you, even if you tell them your darkest secrets.
Take 15 minutes to write down everything bothering you, and your feelings about them. Then burn the paper.
Get a massage.
Walk barefoot on the grass.
Build something with LEGOs.
Play with playdough. You may feel like a kid again by playing with playdough, but that’s not a bad thing. Playdough engages both your hands and your creative side. So do LEGOs (tip #75).
Eat your favorite comfort foods.
Go see a movie at the theater all by yourself.
Plan an extravagant vacation for fun. You don’t need to actually go on a vacation in order to plan out what you’d do. Planning is part of the fun.
Make a homemade facemask.Readers’ Digest has some great facemask recipes for you to use here.
Sing at the top of your lungs. You might feel silly singing at the top of your lungs, but doing so will force you to breathe deeply, which brings oxygen to your brain.
Light candles around the house. Bonus points if the candles you light are scented and the scents are pleasing to you.
Watch old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood videos online.
Wrap yourself up in a blanket just pulled from the dryer.
Turn down thte lights and give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing.
Ask for help. If you have friends or family or a treatment team, ask them for help. Don’t be shy about getting support during a depressive episode; we all need help sometimes.
Read inspirational stories.
Read positive quotes.
Take your dog or a friend’s dog out for a walk. Not only will walking a dog get you moving, it’s good for the dog, too.
Do a 10-minute body scan technique to check in with every part of your body. Start scanning your body with your feet. How are they feeling? Move up to your legs, knees, hips, belly, and so on, checking in with each part of your body. What is your body telling you? Are you dehydrated? Hungry? Is it time for a nap? Listen to your body.
Intentionally find five beautiful things around the house or on the way to work.
Make a gift for someone.
Pray. If you’re religious–or even if you’re not–praying can help you center yourself. If you don’t pray, try meditation.
Focus on your breathing for 5 minutes.
Soften your expectations of yourself and of others.
What are you good at? Try to use your talents.
“Turn the other cheek.” Be the better person when someone has wronged you. Try to forgive someone who has hurt you personally, whether or not they’ve apologized.
Go on a walk and take pictures of anything that catches your eye.
Listen to meditative sounds, like monks chanting.
Give yourself permission to only do one self-care activity per day. When you’re depressed, the last thing you want is a list of things to do. Give yourself permission to only try one self-care activity per day.
If you’ve made it through the entire list, that’s awesome. You don’t have to do all of these self-care ideas, especially not all at once. You don’t even have to do any of them. If you’ve eaten, drank water, and taken a shower, you’ve won the day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can engage in self-care a little at a time.
Some people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But self-care is so much more than that.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your own well-being. That’s it. If that sounds intimidating or difficult, I understand.
September is Self-Care Awareness Month in the US. With that in mind, I’d like to devote this post to examining what self-care is, and a future post to 100 Self-Care Ideas When You’re Depressed.
Read on to discover the 7 vital types of self-care for your mental health, and you may find that self-care is not so intimidating after all.
7 Vital Types of Self-Care
Physical self-care. Physical self-care is the most common form of self-care. It’s simply taking care of your physical needs, such as food, water, sleep, and exercise. It’s taking yourself to the doctor when you get sick. Showering is definitely part of this self-care.
Emotional self-care. Emotional self-care is ensuring that you are emotionally and mentally healthy. You need to express a range of feelings in order to take care of yourself emotionally. Check in with a therapist if you find expressing yourself difficult.
Intellectual self-care. Intellectual self-care is looking after your intellectual pursuits and critical thinking skills. One of the best ways to develop your intellectual self-care repitoire is to engage in creative pursuits.
Spiritual self-care. Spiritual self-care is not synonymous with religion, though it can take the form of attending church services and praying to a higher power. It’s a search for purpose and understanding in the universe, and ing expressing our values.
Relational self-care. Relational self-care is ensuring your relationships with your family members are strong. Familial relationships are critical for good mental health, as without them you may feel alone and unsupported.
Social self-care. Social self-care is strengthening relationships with those outside your immediate family. Socialization is so important to your mental health, even if you’re an introvert. It’s part of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. Safety and security self-care. Safety and security self-care involves having health insurance and being smart about your personal safety. Understanding the financial sphere falls under this type of self-care. Many people wait to evaluate their safety or finances until they’re in trouble. Don’t do that. Make sure you have contingency plans.
All of these types of self-care are vital to your well-being. First, take care of the physical and emotional self-care, then work on the spiritual, intellectual, and relational self-care. Finally, make sure you’re also doing the social and safety self-care, and you’ll be a well-rounded, healthy individual.
But how do you actually accomplish these seven? In future posts, we’ll be looking at self-care ideas for people suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. Stay tuned.
These are all names for the same psychiatric condition, as the terminology has evolved over time. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common psychiatric condition developed in people who have seen or experienced a traumatic event.
These events can be directly experienced, such as combat or war, rape, or a natural disaster. But indirect exposure, such as the violent death of a close family member, can also trigger PTSD to develop.
PTSD can occur in people of all races, ages, nations, or cultures. Approximately 1 in 11 people will develop PTSD in their lifetimes. Women are 2 times as likely as men to suffer from PTSD.
June 27th is National PTSD Awareness Day in the US. Started in 2010 by Congress, the awareness day supports mental health organizations which target PTSD in educating communities and families about PTSD symptoms. Later, in 2014, Congress declared June National PTSD Awareness Month.
These organizations also encourage people who suffer from PTSD to get treatment. The US Department of Defense is majorly involved, as June has many awareness days celebrating the military.
Symptoms of PTSD affect people in four different ways. Each symptom differs in severity. People with PTSD can suffer:
Arousal and reactive symptoms, which may include irritability; reckless and self-destructive decisions; extreme jumpiness at loud noises or accidental touches; inability to concentrate or sleep; and angry outbursts.
Intense, distressing intrusive thoughts and worries related to the traumatic event long after it has ended; repeated, involuntary memories; disturbing dreams; and flashbacks which are so evocative that people feel like they are reliving the traumatic experience.
Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, which may include avoiding people and situations that create intrusive thoughts or disturbing memories. People may avoid talking about the event and how it makes them feel.
Distorted negative beliefs about themselves or others including things like, “I am an awful person,” or “I can’t trust anyone.” These negative thoughts and feelings can include anger, guilt, fear, shame, anhedonia (inability to enjoy usually enjoyable activities), or detachment or estrangement from others.
People who experience a traumatic event can suffer from these symptoms for days after the event, but to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must persist for months or even years. Symptoms usually develop within three months of the event, but some may appear much later.
Posttraumatic stress disorder can be a devastating psychiatric condition, impacting every facet of people’s lives. While PTSD is a mental injury and not a mental illness, it interferes with the ability to function in daily life similar to conditions like bipolar disorder.
People who suffer from PTSD often also deal with other conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, and memory problems.
If you or a loved one suffer from PTSD, there is hope. Recovery programs abound nationwide, and processing your feelings with a therapist can help. There are even medications which can treat PTSD, such as clonidine for nightmares.
(For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)
Don’t give up hope. PTSD can be overcome with time and proper therapeutic treatments. You can heal from your traumatic event.
Do you have a new father in your life? Read how to support him and his family on this post by the Bipolar Parent!
Most everyone has heard of postpartum depression, the devastating mental health condition that affects many mothers after giving birth. But did you know that some researchers estimate that up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year after their child’s birth? And the number jumps to 50% if mom is also depressed.
We hear quite a bit about women’s transition to new motherhood, but very little about men’s transition to fatherhood. While supporting maternal mental health is a worthy goal and should continue, we need to support paternal mental health as well.
Immediately following Father’s Day on June 21st, 2020, is International Father’s Mental Health Day. Founded by Postpartum Support International’s Dr. Daniel Singley as well as paternal postpartum depression survivor Mark Williams, the awareness day aims to create social media buzz about the mental health of dads.
New Fatherhood Has Its Own Changes and Challenges
Having a new baby doesn’t just change the biology of women. Men undergo massive hormonal and biological changes as well. Testosterone goes down, prolactin goes up, and entire areas of a man’s brain grow. This equips the father to care for his newborn.
And aside from biological and hormonal changes, fatherhood brings its own unique stresses.
First, the partnership between the parents have changed. Sex is off the table, at least for a while, and sleep deprivation makes handling conflicts over parenting, finances, and other issues more difficult to handle–right when the conflicts ramp up.
The lack of emotional and physical intimacy, especially for men who depend entirely on their partner for emotional closeness, is a bitter pill to swallow for many new fathers.
Speaking of finances, a mother who has just given birth needs at least six weeks to recover, maybe more if she’s had a C-section. She will be out of work for at least that time. Since parental leave in the US is so abysmal, and new parents have very little support on a state and federal level, the stress for keeping the family afloat while the mother is recovering falls to the other parent.
The father may also feel that his bond with the new baby is not as strong as the mother’s bond, so he may feel left out of building a relationship with his newborn.
In addition, there are psychological stresses to parenting. The new dad must resolve conflicts about his own childhood and his own father, looking for a model for his own parenthood. If the new dad has a bad relationship with his own father, he may have to seek role models elsewhere–something few people do before impending fatherhood.
All of these stresses and conflicts impact a new dad’s mental health. As I said in the first paragraph, up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life.
How to Support Our Fathers
The mental health of our fathers matters, and not just for the father himself.
If the father of the household is emotionally healthy, he can better respond to a newborn’s cries and model emotional resilience to his children. When a father is emotionally supported, he can be a better partner, and maternal mental health improves.
But a dad, especially a new dad, should not be supported just because his mental health impacts others. The father is a human being with his own unique struggles who needs help from not only the people around him, but state and federal governments.
If you have a new dad in your life, offer him and his parenting partner a meal. Check in with the parents on a regular basis, especially after the first two months, when most support around them has usually dried up. Offer an ear to the new father (and mother) if your relationship is close–and even if it isn’t.
Join organizations such as Postpartum Support International, and see what you can do to advocate for new parents, especially fathers, who are often left out of mental health conversations. Include new dads in these conversations as much as possible.
As for the governmental level, write your senator or representative to insist on paternal leave policies in your state. There are many benefits to paternity leave:
Fathers who stay home with their newborns develop a greater bond with their babies, which lasts long into the child’s life.
Children whose dads stayed home with them have better mental health and cognitive test scores than those children whose fathers stayed away.
And the mental and physical health of mothers whose parenting partners stayed with them–and set up an equal parenting relationship–was greatly improved.
Paid parental leave policies are crucial for the mental health of both parents and their children.
Washington state has just passed a state-wide policy requiring three months of paid leave for fathers who work at large companies, occurring any time within the first year of infancy.
My brother-in-law, a new dad himself, is taking two months off of work in June and July to spend time with his wife and baby. (He took one off earlier, when the policy was less robust.)
My sister told me that having her husband work at home during the coronavirus outbreak was wonderful for their little family. He helped her cook and clean, bonded with their baby, and supported her mental health by opening up communication on tough issues they’d been facing in their relationship.
Paid paternity leave is a wonderful way to support our new fathers.
Our dads, especially new dads, need our help. Society has neglected them and told them that in order to remain strong, they must stuff their anxiety and depression. This does a disservice to the men in our lives.
The benefits to emotionally supporting a father are numerous. Fathers need support not only on a personal level, but also governmental. We need to advocate for them and include them in mental health conversations.
With a concentrated effort, we may be able to lower the incidence rate of depression among new fathers.
How does bipolar disorder manifest in men? Find out with this post for Men’s Health Week on the Bipolar Parent!
June 10th-16th is Men’s Health Week, celebrated the world over. The week is meant to heighten awareness of conditions that disproportionately affect men, and to encourage those affected to seek treatment for their physical and mental health issues.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and Overall Differences
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive disorder, is a severe mental illness where people with the condition cycle through two types of mood episodes. To fully explain bipolar disorder in men, we must first look at the two “poles” of the disease: mania and depression.
People with bipolar disorder can swing between these two states over periods of days, weeks, months, or even years. Rapid cycling occurs when four or more mood episodes happen over the course of a year. Men are only about 1/3 as likely as women to have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
There are also different forms of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder I involves depression, but also the presence of severe manic episodes, which sometimes require hospitalization. Bipolar disorder II sufferers deal with severe depressive episodes, but only have hypomania, a less intense form of mania.
Men are more likely to have bipolar I disorder than women. The tendency to have a manic episode rather than a depressive episode as the first onset of bipolar disorder is more prevalent in men than women. Conversely, women tend to have depressive episodes first. In addition, these first manic episodes in men are often severe, sometimes leading to prison.
People with bipolar disorder also suffer from mixed states, where they feel symptoms of depression during manic or hypomanic states, or symptoms of mania during depressive episodes. A 2006 study showed that 72% of women presented depressive symptoms during hypomanic episode, while only 42% of men did.
However, these overall differences are all tendencies. Men can have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder 2 with mixed states, and women can have standard-cycling bipolar I with the first onset that was manic.
Denial of a Problem
Unfortunately, many people deny that bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses exist. Men are more likely to be in denial that they have problems, and therefore don’t seek help as often as women.
Women are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants when being treated for bipolar disorder. This is possibly because women more often express their feelings to doctors. Socially, men are encouraged to stuff their emotions. As bipolar disorder is disease that primarily affects emotions, diagnosing bipolar disorder in men who deny there’s a problem can be more difficult.
Similarly, manic states cause men and women to feel euphoria, which can be expressed as extreme confidence. Men are expected to feel more confidence than women in society, so diagnosing a manic state becomes harder.
Violence and Aggression
Mania can include symptoms of irritability, which encourages angry outbursts. Bipolar rage is a real thing.
One of the ways bipolar disorder manifests in men, especially during manic episodes, is through violence and aggression. Violence during manic episodes is rare for bipolar disorder sufferers overall, but is more common in men than women.
This leads men to be imprisoned more often than women. Studies show that men with mental illnesses are 2-4 times more likely to be incarcerated than their representation in the population.
Substance abuse is a serious problem with men who have bipolar disorder. At least 72.8% of men with bipolar disorder struggled with some sort of substance abuse problem at some point in their lives, compared to 27.2% of women with the same mental illness.
Men with bipolar disorder are twice as likely than women with the condition to be currently addicted to illegal drugs and/or alcohol, according to a 2004 study published in the journal Bipolar Disorder.
No one knows why men and women with bipolar disorder differ so much when it comes to substance abuse issues. One argument is that men use drugs and alcohol to cope with bipolar mood episodes rather than traditional medication.
While bipolar disorder affects men and women at equal rates, there are several differences between the two genders when it comes to this mental illness. Men with bipolar disorder are more likely to have more severe manic episodes, less likely to seek help, have more violent outbursts than women, and often struggle with substance abuse.
Bipolar disorder is a serious problem, especially in men who self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. We must raise awareness of this issue, and encourage the men with bipolar disorder symptoms in our lives to seek treatment.
If you suspect you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, don’t delay. Call your doctor today, and ask for a referral to a competent psychiatrist. He or she can confirm a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and start prescribing medications to help you manage your mood episodes. You deserve help.
For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
Are you depressed? Here’s how to find motivation to clean your house, in this post by The Bipolar Parent!
Neglecting your environment–along with yourself–goes hand in hand with depression. When you’re suffering from overwhelming feelings and low energy, picking up around the house can rank last on your list. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, as I am now, I want to load the dishwasher about as much as I want to put my hand into a box of tarantulas.
But a messy house can prolong and deepen feelings of depression. Overwhelming feelings breed messes, and messes bring overwhelming feelings. The depression-messy house cycle is real, and vicious.
So how do you overcome your paralysis and start cleaning up? Read on for some tips that have helped me conquer my inactivity during my current episode and others.
Crank Up the Tunes
Listening to some fast or inspiring music is a psychological trick that encourages you to move more quickly. You may end up dancing your way through your chores. I blast a Pandora Radio station based on bands like Pendulum, an energetic electronic rock band, in headphones to really get going. The Pandora app is free, and there are several other free options, like Spotify and I Heart Radio.
Commit to Nine Minutes
Set a timer for nine minutes to clean. Just nine. Nine minutes is easier to commit to than a longer period. You’re not going to clean your whole house. You’re not even going to get the entire kitchen clean. But nine minutes, even if you’re working slowly, is enough time to:
Make your bed.Your bed, even if the mattress is small, takes up a huge percentage of floor space. All you need to do is pull up the sheets and covers. The action takes two minutes, tops, and will instantly elevate the rest of the room.
Throw away a bag of trash. Picking up one bag of trash from the floor will improve the room immensely. Throwing away big items, like last night’s pizza boxes and soda bottles, will have the most visible impact.
Unload the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher will take up to three minutes to complete, or five if you’re working slowly. But once you’ve started to conquer Dish Mountain, the kitchen will look a whole lot better, and you’ll have clean dishes to eat off. If you have an empty dishwasher, load it. If you don’t have a dishwasher at all, wash as many dishes as you can in the time you have left.
After you’ve completed your nine minutes of cleaning, you can sit down on the couch. The feeling of accomplishment you get might spur you on to more cleaning. That’s great, but take a break first. In the long run, this actually keeps your house cleaner by avoiding bad associations and burn out.
On the other side of bipolar disorder, manic episodes strike. Marathon cleaning can contribute to mania. This kind of marathon cleaning may be great for your house, but it’s terrible for your mental health. Then you’re exhausted. And your brain begins to associate cleaning with illness. Don’t fall into that trap. Take breaks.
Rewards aren’t just for potty-training toddlers. You need to reward yourself. Teens and adults can be driven by the pleasure centers of the brain just as effectively. After a morning of cleaning, I often go out to lunch. The association of pleasure with resting after work is a powerful one for me.
Tell Yourself Why You’re Cleaning
Why do the dishes or make your bed? They’re just going to get dirty again, right? If you’re thinking of chores as pointless, you’re looking at them all wrong. Think of cleaning as being kind to yourself.
I know, I know, you don’t want to be kind to yourself when you’re crippled by low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But think of it this way: would you let your friend live in filth? You deserve a clean house, because you are a worthy human being.
Cleaning your house won’t cure your depression. But it can help. Crank up the music, clean for nine minutes, take breaks, reward yourself, and tell yourself why you’re cleaning, and you’ll have a clean house (or cleaner) in no time. And you might even feel better, too.
Do you suffer from postpartum depression? Find out what the symptoms are, as well as 9 tips for coping with it from a woman who’s been there in this post on the Bipolar Parent!
Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Postpartum depression is a special kind of hell. You’ve been told that the time with your newborn is fleeting and magical. That you should be bonding with your baby. That every mother has the blues, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with you.
But postpartum depression is not fleeting or magical. It interrupts the bond with your baby and leaves you a compromised mess. And it’s not just the typical blues “every” mother gets; if you have postpartum depression, there is definitely something wrong.
May is National Maternal Depression month. The awareness month is intended to acknowledge the seriousness of depression and psychosis during and after pregnancy. Studies show that up to 20% of mothers suffer from some form of depression in the postpartum period.
And you know what they say: “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” The damage that can be dealt to families when a mother suffers from depression or psychosis is tremendous.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis
Postpartum depression symptoms can show up anytime within the first year, though most tend to show up soon after your baby’s birth. If you or your loved ones are feeling three or more of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
Persistent sadness or anxiety
Irritability or anger, especially for no reason
Sleeping too much
Changes in eating patterns, either too much or too little
A lack of ability to focus
Changes in memory (can’t remember things)
Feelings of worthlessness
Anhedonia – Lack of pleasure in usually enjoyable activities
Feelings of hopelessness
Unexplained aches, pains, or illness
Interrupted bond with the baby
Postpartum psychosis, however, usually shows up within 2 weeks of the birth. The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a family history of bipolar disorder or a previous psychotic episode.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:
Delusions or strange beliefs
Auditory or visual hallucinations
Feeling pressured to go, go, go all the time
Inability to sleep, or decreased need for sleep
Extreme mood swings that cycle quickly
Inability to communicate at times
Postpartum psychosis is a serious disorder of the mind. Women who experience postpartum psychosis die by suicide 5% of the time and kill their infants 4% of the time. The psychosis causes delusions and hallucinations to feel real and compelling. They are often religious. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment. If you or a loved one are feeling any of these symptoms, head to your nearest emergency room.
After my son was born, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and committed myself to a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. I later wrote a book about the experience. After I recovered from the break, a manic episode with psychotic features, I suffered postpartum depression.
By the two-and-a-half year mark, I was writing daily suicide notes and making plans to die. It wasn’t until I weaned my son and took lithium that the clouds parted. My full recovery took a long time after that, but I was able to recover. I have since had a second child with no ill effects.
But if you have postpartum depression, how do you cope with it? Read on for 9 practical tips from a woman who’s been there.
Tip #1: Get Professional Help
Postpartum depression is a beast that screams for professional help. If you don’t already have a treatment team including a therapist, psychiatrist, and a primary care physician, then make the effort to get one.
(For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)
I know calling and vetting doctors at a time when you can barely hold your head above water sounds about as appealing as sticking your hand into a box of tarantulas. But trust me: the sooner you get help, the better off you’ll be. If you have a friend or a partner willing to support you, delegate the task of finding doctors and making appointments to your helpers.
A therapist can teach you coping skills to better handle your depressive episode. And a psychiatrist can prescribe you medication which can improve your mood and anxiety tremendously. And your primary care physician can give you referrals to a therapist and a psychiatrist.
If you don’t have a primary care physician, go to urgent care or call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773. Their website, postpartum.net, enables you to find local resources to get treatment, and support groups for new moms like you. You can also ask your ob-gyn if the hospital in which you delivered offers services to treat postpartum depression.
Tip #2: Take Your Medications
If you’ve been prescribed medication, then do take it. There’s no shame in using the tools that you’ve been given specifically to help you.
I know that you may not feel an effect for a couple of weeks, and the first medication may not even work the way you want it to, but I promise, if you stick with them, your meds will help. Stay the course. Work with your psychiatrist (see tip #1) to find the right combination of medication to help you.
Don’t stop taking them abruptly, as they aren’t designed for that, and you will suffer withdrawal symptoms. For a post on what to do if you run out of medication, click here.
You can pull through this. You just need to be patient–and take your meds as prescribed. Give medication a chance, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.
Tip #3: Practice Self-care
Practice self-care. A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
Practicing self-care on a daily basis is difficult. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But taking care of yourself will help your depression lift.
Tip #4: Lean on Your Friends
If there was ever a time to lean on your friends, this is it.
Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable. Give your friends a call and ask them to listen to your worries, or join an online support group. If you have a church or social organization, see if someone would be willing to set up a meal train for you. Ask your friends or family to come watch the baby so you can get some life-saving sleep.
Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part of being down and out. Pride is a stumbling block. But there’s no shame in asking for help if you really need it. If you’re depressed, you’re really suffering, and you need the aid of others. Lean on your friends.
Tip #5: Journal, Journal, Journal
When faced with overwhelming feelings, you need to express yourself. Don’t stuff your worries, thinking they’ll go away. You’ll only succeed in making them bigger and harder to overcome.
If motherhood is not what you envisioned, write about how unfair this new normal is. Journal your concerns about your baby. Write down your dreams.
Talking to someone also helps. Reach out to your friends (tip #4) and speak with them about your fears.
However, if you have a rare disorder called hypergraphia, the compulsion to write, then try to avoid writing. During my postpartum psychosis, I suffered from hypergraphia, and was compelled to write multiple to-do lists with hundreds of items each. I filled up a journal my husband bought me on the day of my son’s birth within a week.
If you are suffering from hypergraphia, it is even more imperative that you seek treatment (tip #1).
Tip #6: Breastfeed… But Only if You Can and Want To
Studies have shown that mothers who breastfed for two to four months were less likely to suffer postpartum depression. But for mothers who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed and felt pressure to do so, their depressive symptoms were worse.
If you can and want to breastfeed, then do so. You may feel the benefits.
But if you can’t breastfeed or don’t want to, then don’t, and don’t feel shame. You are doing a wonderful job feeding your baby regardless of how you feed them. Ignore judgmental people, and do what’s best for you. What’s best for you is best for your baby.
For a post on which common antidepressants and antipsychotics are safe to take while breastfeeding, click here.
Tip #7: Schedule Me-time
Anyone juggling the demands of a newborn needs me-time. This is doubly true if you’re depressed. Lean on your friends (tip #4) to watch the baby so you can get out for a walk, take a nap, and practice self-care.
If you can’t bear to be separated from your baby, just try for twenty minutes. You can be alone for twenty minutes. That’s enough time to squeeze in a yoga or meditation session, or read a couple chapters of a book.
You need time off to function as an adult. Losing your identity to the vast maw of motherhood is a real concern. Schedule me-time.
Tip #8: Cry
After the postpartum period, your body is flush with hormones. One of the ways to rebalance your hormonal imbalance is to cry. Our bodies secrete hormones through our tears.
Don’t be afraid of tears. Embrace them. Sometimes, if you give yourself over to a good cry, it can be cleansing.
Tip #9: Practice Infant Massage
Infant massage has a whole host of benefits. The baby’s sleep may improve. Rubbing infants down stimulates growth hormone in underweight babies, and helps all babies’ stomachs. And infant massage also helps the pain of teething.
Most importantly, performing regular infant massage can help you bond with your baby. When you’re depressed, bonding with your newborn can be extremely difficult. Connecting with your baby through your hands may help.
Postpartum depression doesn’t have to last forever. If you get professional help, take your medications, practice self-care, lean on your friends, journal your feelings, breastfeed (but only if you can and want to), schedule me-time, cry, and practice infant massage, then you’ll be well on your way to recovery.
You don’t have to do all of these tips. Pick and choose the ones that are most appealing. But if you do any of them, do the first: get professional help.
Postpartum depression is a serious condition which requires the aid of doctors. And postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. Trust your instincts. If you feel that something is wrong, then do take the first steps to care for yourself.
When you’re suffering from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, some days are worse than others. You will have days where you wake up stressed, depressed, and feeling unloved. Your brain often tells you that you’re worthless, that you don’t deserve love, and that you shouldn’t expend the energy to take care of yourself–and that no one else will either.
So how do you get through a bad mental health day?
The answer is self-care. Self-care is the act of taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it. That’s all self-care is.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Observed in May since 1949, the awareness month aims to educate families and communities about mental illnesses, and support those who struggle with them. One of the best ways to take care of yourself during a mental illness is to practice self-care.
Here are 8 easy, frugal ways to practice self-care when you’re facing a horrible day:
1. Get Out of the House
I know, I know, when you’re feeling down in the dumps, you don’t want to go outside. You’d rather stay in your dark, gloomy bedroom, which is far more comfortable that going outside in a winter drizzle. But trust me, getting outside, even when the sky is overcast, is crucial for your mental health.
Sunshine entering your eyes has a huge impact on your mood. Even if the sky is cloudy, you’ll be absorbing a therapeutic amount of sun–10,000 lux, or units of light. Absorbing this lux helps lower your blood pressure and engender feelings of contentment. A therapy light box uses up to 10,000 units. During the summer, the sun shines up to 30,000 lux.
During the winter, without absorbing the sun, many people suffer from the winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For more strategies on how to combat the winter blues, click here.
So getting outside, even for a brief walk, is critical to manage a bad mental health day. Even sitting in a sun puddle in front of a window can help, though walking outside also helps because you’re getting some exercise, too. Try it today.
2. Practice Hygiene
If your energy level is so low that even showering and brushing your teeth sound like onerous chores, then at least use baby wipes or a damp rag, and mouthwash. Washing your face, arms, and the back of your neck will help you feel better. And mouthwash will enable your mouth to feel fresh for a little while.
Practicing hygiene this way only takes a few minutes. You have nothing to lose by trying.
3. Do a Full-Body Check
Performing a full body-check can help you tune into your needs. Sit in a chair or lie down on your bed. Mentally examine your whole body, starting with your toes.
How do your toes feel? Are they sore? Cold? Too warm? How about your shins? How about your hips? Belly? And so on. Keep asking these questions about each of your body parts.
Next, ask yourself how you’re feeling in general. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? When is the last time you’ve eaten or drank water? Can you take a nap?
After you’re done asking questions, start addressing the problems that may have cropped up. Go feed yourself, and drink water. Take a shower if you can, or use baby wipes. Take a nap.
Doing a full-body check can help you identify issues with your body as well as solutions to those issues. Just try it.
4. Take Your Medication
This tip is more preventative than reactionary, but if you have prescribed pills and haven’t swallowed them today, make sure to take them.
If you have fast-acting anti-anxiety meds, for example, then by all means take them if you’re feeling anxious. Sleep aids can also help you take a nap or get a good night’s sleep. Don’t be afraid or ashamed that you need the extra medical help. That’s what your medication is there for.
5. Talk to Someone You Trust
Letting someone you trust know about your bad mental health day can help you feel listened to and empathized with. If the people around you understand your struggles, then you may feel less alone.
Some therapists, if you have one, offer emergency counseling sessions. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
If you can’t get a hold of your therapist or you don’t have one, then call or text a trusted friend. If you’re truly alone, then call a warmline or visit an online support group.
6. Appeal to Your Senses
When you’re struggling with a bad mental health day, appealing to your senses is a good way to center yourself.
There are several ways to engage your senses: burn incense or a candle (scent), eat some chocolate (taste), apply lotion to your hands and face (touch), look at a beautiful picture of a forest (sight), or listen to your favorite soothing song (hearing).
If you appeal to your senses, you can ground yourself in the present moment. It’s almost like meditation. Give it a try today.
7. Get Lost in a Book
One of my favorite ways to distract myself is to get lost in an imaginative book. Being transported to another world, reading about people who solve problems that aren’t my own, is a wonderful way to focus on something other than my sad state.
If you can concentrate on reading, try getting lost in a book today. Just pull your favorite off your bookshelf, or find a free one online.
8. Lower Your Expectations of Yourself
On a bad mental health day, just getting through the day is enough. You’re not at your best, so you’re not going to be able to be as productive as you usually are. Bid goodbye to guilt about not being on the go.
Our capitalistic societies (in the US especially) expect us to perform like cogs in the machine. But you are human, and you struggle with a mental illness. You are enough just the way you are.
Everyone suffers from a bad mental health day from time to time. These 8 tips can’t cure a mental health day, but may be able to help you manage one. If you can only manage one, that’s okay.
Just pick your favorite off the list, one you can handle, and try it today.