8 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Tips for a Bad Mental Health Day

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:

How to Survive a Bad Mental Health Day - CassandraStout.com

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related:

8 Frugal, Easy Tips for a Bad Mental Health Day - Cassandrastout.com

 

 

Show me some love!

National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes

The week of May 12-18 is National Prevention Week, so I’d like to talk about how I try to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. Because I was diagnosed at twenty-two and started medication and therapy, I have a decade’s worth of experience in managing my bipolar disorder. Read on for a roadmap discussing how to tackle the prevention of mania and depression head on.

Fight Self-Stigma

Self-stigma is when you have absorbed the negative, inaccurate messages about your mental illness around you. This affects your perception of your mental illness and your need to treat it, which in turn affects your behaviors and actions in terms of seeking treatment. In order to face taking medication every day for the rest of your life, you need to fight stigma, especially self-stigma. The way I fought it was to recognize that I needed to be my best self for my newborn son, which entailed taking medications and going to therapy. I needed to treat my disorder so I could properly mother my son. It wasn’t just about me.

If you have a reason outside of yourself, awesome, but if you don’t, you still deserve treatment. You are better than your disease. You are a human being, a precious individual. Caring for yourself, especially in the pit of depression, is one of the hardest issues you’ll ever face. But you deserve proper care, even if it’s mostly self-care for a while.

Medication

I can’t recommend medication enough. In combination with therapy, medications saved my life. When I was first diagnosed, Depakote toned down my psychotic mania, and two years later, lithium lifted me from the black sucking hole of suicidal depression. Now I’m on Risperidone and Wellbutrin, and the combination has enabled me to be stable for over six years. Taking my medication daily has prevented the dizzying spin of mania and the pit of depression. Part of this is my fighting self-stigma, as I said above.

Therapy

Another tactic that has helped me remain stable for the past half-decade is attending counseling sessions with my therapist. Therapy has helped me learn coping mechanisms to handle my day-to-day life, including emergencies. I’ve been able to treat my manic and depressive episodes, and learn how to flourish. I am thriving, and I wouldn’t have thrived so successfully without those weekly appointments with my therapist.

Sleep

Proper sleep is crucial for managing your bipolar disorder. Sleep disturbances trigger bipolar mood episodes, especially mania, and too much sleep triggers the crash of depression–usually following mania. Problems with sleep are a common symptom of bipolar disorder; in a future post, I’ll be looking at how common insomnia is for this specific mental illness.

To ensure I sleep as well as I can, I practice what’s called good sleep hygiene. I don’t drink water or caffeinated beverages right before bed. I wind down before bed, taking a bath every night. I wake up every morning at 8:30am, if not earlier. I try to go to bed at the same time. I wake up frequently in the middle of the night with a racing mind, but I try to calm myself by praying or meditating. Generally, that works, and I’m able to get back to sleep within fifteen to thirty minutes; I recognize that I am lucky in that manner. Try to practice good sleep hygiene, and you, too, might be able to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes.

jessi RM
A picture of a smiling woman next to a frowning woman, in black and white. Credit to fliclr.com user Jessi RM. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Final Thoughts

Fighting self-stigma, getting proper treatment for your disease (including medication and therapy), and sleeping properly are some of the best ways to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. If you’re looking for a post on how to manage the most common bipolar triggers, click here.

You can do this.

Related:

Show me some love!

Bipolar Disorder Medication and Weight Gain

After a recent post, a commenter asked me what medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder also cause weight gain.

The short and unfortunate answer? Most of them. (See the chart below for a quick take.)

The more complicated answer involves looking at genetic predispositions, because gaining weight is highly individualized. Whether your treatment for bipolar disorder will cause you to gain weight depends heavily on the type of medication you take and how it interacts with your body. For example, the size of your thighs may

pills
A picture of yellow and pink pills. Credit to flickr.com user DraconianRain. Used with permission under a Creative Commons lig

grow while on one drug, but not on another, even if the second drug is associated with weight gain in other people.

The medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder are mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antidepressant-antipsychotics. Some of these medications are also anticonvulsants.

No one knows for sure why these medications cause weight gain. Research is still being done on these pills. However, scientists suspect that antidepressants and antipsychotics may trigger food cravings and increase the appetite. The drugs may also slow your metabolism, increase blood sugar, and cause diabetes-like symptoms. The mood stabilizer lithium is also likely to destroy your thyroid, which is part of the reason psychiatrists monitor blood draws every three months or so.

So which drugs are associated with weight gain, and which ones aren’t? Let’s dig in.

Mood Stabilizers

A mood stabilizer is just that: a medication used to steady your mood. These medications help manage the extreme highs of mania and extreme lows of depression. A mood stabilizer also prevents the reoccurrence of these manic and depressive episodes. Gains of 20 to 35 pounds are not uncommon when taking these drugs, especially lithium.

According to the Mayo Clinic, mood stabilizers are the most likely culprits when it comes to packing on the pounds, even more than other drugs like antidepressants. You will probably gain weight on them. Lithium, valproic acid (Depakene), divalproex sodium (Depakote), and carbamazepine (Tegretol) all may increase the risk of weight gain.

However, there is a drug that doesn’t cause weight gain in most patients: Lamotrigine, also known as Lamictal.

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics are another class of medications that treat bipolar disorder, preventing psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. Antipsychotics that are associated with weight gain include olanzapine (Zyprexa), risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), and asenapine (Saphris).

Antipsychotics that are less likely to cause weight gain are cariprazine (Vraylar), lurasidone (Latuda), ziprasidone (Geodon), and aripiprazole (Abilify). Whether these latter medications make you gain weight is highly dependent on the individual person, though these are associated with less weight gain than the others.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants are medications used to treat depression, both in bipolar patients and people with other forms of depression.

Antidepressants like tricyclics–like Elavil and Tofranil–and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)–like Parnate and Nardil–tend to cause patients to gain weight with both long-term and short-term use.

Other antidepressant medications may also have weight gain as a side effect. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of medications that affect the brain’s ability to process serotonin, a feel-good chemical. Escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft) are all members of this class that increase the risk of weight gain. These SSRIs are the most risky antidepressants when it comes to weight gain, and patients report gaining more on them than on other antidepressants.

The antidepressants venlafaxine (Effexor) and nefazodone (Serzone) are associated with the least weight gain, whereas bupropion (Wellbutrin) is actually associated with weight loss.

Antidepressant-antipsychotic

Antidepressant-antipsychotic combination medications both treat depression and stabilize moods. The medication Symbyax combines the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prosac) and the antipsychotic olanzapine and is associated with weight gain. Another combination medication, perphenazine/amitriptyline, also lists weight gain as a side effect. There are no weight-neutral combination medications.

The Bottom Line

Weight gain from bipolar medication use is a very common problem. Many of these drugs cause weight gain. As many as 25 percent of people report gaining some weight on antidepressants, and some people gain up to 100 pounds or more. I personally gained over 70 pounds on a combination of lithium and Depakote over a period of three-to-five years, weight which I have yet to shed.

But I still think that taking my medication was worth the weight gained. As I told my psychiatrist in the mental hospital when I was separated from my newborn, I didn’t mind gaining a few pounds if I could just get my sanity back and be reunited with my baby. While I gained more than I thought I would–and the weight has been stubborn to remove–I would still choose the medication if I had to make the decision over again. Lithium saved my life; Depakote saved my sanity. Gaining weight was an unfortunate side effect, but one as worth it by all means.

We take these drugs because we need to, not because we want to.

If you’re distressed about this side effect, talk to your doctors about the risk of weight gain associated with the medications you’re taking. Your doctor might consider changing the dosage amount or the medication you’re taking. Lifestyle changes might also help, though that’s less likely. Still, try to get some exercise to see if it helps. (For a post on how to work out with kids, click here.) And, of course, eat a healthy diet, which has many more benefits than managing your waistline.

Good luck!

medications and weight gain chart
Credit to Cassandra Stout of The Bipolar Parent. Protected under a Creative Commons license. Please ask permission before using.
Show me some love!

How to Treat Common Side Effects of Bipolar Medication

pills
A picture of a green prescription bottle with pink pills spilling out of it. Credit to flickr.com user Rakka. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Trigger Warning: Discussions of suicide.

To treat bipolar disorder, adhering to a medication regime is crucial. The medications used to treat bipolar disorder are antidepressants, antipsychotics, antidepressant-antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, and mood stabilizers. Downing your pills day after day keeps you from becoming manic, or worse, suicidal. But some side effects to medications are difficult to deal with. But there are better ways to deal with side effects than simply stopping your medication.

A Dangerous Side Effect: Suicide

A dangerous but very rare side effect of bipolar medication is suicide. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has placed warnings on anticonvulsants–which are sometimes used to treat bipolar disorder–and antidepressants, especially in the case of adolescents taking them. Antidepressants aren’t frequently used to treat bipolar due to the risk of inducing rapid cycling or mania. Anyone starting these medications must be monitored closely by a treatment team looking out for worsening depression or the resurgence of mania.

The antidepressants mirtazapine (Remeron) and venlafaxine (Effexor) were found to increase the risk of suicidal or self-harming behaviors, according to a 2010 study. Also in the class of antidepressants that increase these risks are all selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

Side Effects That Tend to Diminish Over Time

Many of the side effects of bipolar medications are temporary, and will diminish over time. While all medications and individuals taking them are different, side effects that tend to be temporary include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Digestive issues, such as diarrhea and constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred Vision
  • Rashes
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Nausea, bloating, or indigestion

Side effects of bipolar medication should be reported to a doctor, as they could be indicative of a larger issue.

Managing Other Common Side Effects

Other side effects of bipolar medication can be tolerated or treated with lifestyle changes. Some common side effects and the ways to manage them are;

  • Dry mouth: treated with an over-the-counter gum or spray. Sucking on ice chips also helps
  • Sexual issues: treated by reducing the dosage of medications used, changing medications, or using sexual aids
  • Sensitivity to the sun: use sunscreen or protective clothing, or stay out of the sun entirely
  • Sensitivity to cold: avoid cold weather and dress more warmly
  • Joint and muscle aches: ibuprofen and other over-the-counter pain relievers may be used
  • Menstrual issues: birth control may be prescribed
  • Anxiety or restlessness: changing medication dosages or adding a drug can reduce this side effect. Yoga may also help
  • Heartburn: treated by changes in diet and exercise, but over-the-counter and prescription meds are used as well
  • Increase in blood sugar, Diabetes: medications used to manage the blood sugar can be taken to lessen this side effect
  • Acne: medication is available to treat this side effect
  • Mood swings: adjusting dosages and types of medications taken is generally the only way to handle this side effect
  • Weight gain: see mood swings. I will be covering weight gain specifically in a future post.

The Bottom Line

Side effects of medications are an unfortunate and expected part of treating bipolar disorder. Fortunately, most side effects can be managed, or diminish over time.

If you suffer from intolerable side effects, talk to your doctor about how to manage them better. Don’t stop taking your meds without a doctor’s approval, and never stop taking bipolar medication immediately. Treating your bipolar disorder is worth dealing with side effects. For example, it’s better to manage acne than to have to pick up the pieces after a manic episode.

Good luck!0

Show me some love!

What to do if You Run Out of Medication

Medications. Like it or not, sufferers of mental health problems usually need to take them to manage their conditions. Being compliant with your prescribed pills is the best path to stable moods. But what happens when you run out?  Here are a few tips to deal with just that.

1. Don’t Panic

If you have a mental health issue that’s triggered by stress, panicking is the worst thing you can do for yourself. Withdrawal symptoms can be harsh, but not as bad as triggering your illness. Breathe. Remind yourself that this is a temporary problem, which can be fixed. Which brings us to our next point…

pills.jpg
Credit to flickr.com user mattza. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

2. Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor immediately, and keep them apprised of the situation. If you can’t meet with them, find out if they will call in a prescription for you to a pharmacy. Any doctor at your regular office should have access to your files, and should be able to fill a prescription.

3. Use a Regular Pharmacy

If you can, visit the same pharmacy and get to know your pharmacist. Bring your empty prescription bottles with you to talk to the technicians, and they might be able to give you an emergency five- or seven-day supply, or direct you to an emergency clinic that can. You are unlikely to get one if you are sixteen or younger, as pharmacists are reluctant to give out medication to minors. Take an adult that you trust with you to help smooth things over.

4. What if I Can’t Afford Them?

If you can’t afford your medications, ask your doctor. He or she may have access to free samples of the pills you need, or be able to prescribe you a cheaper generic drug. If you’re an American citizen and you’re uninsured, find out if the pharmaceutical company that manufactures your drug has a patient-assistance program. You may qualify for these programs if your income is 100% of the poverty line, but it’s unlikely that you will if you receive Medicaid benefits. Ask your pharmacy if they have a discount program if you pay in cash. If you’re over fifty and have a membership with the AARP, you can receive discounts on pills.

There is no reason for you to go into medication withdrawal. Ideally, you’d be able to have your doctor prescribe some drugs months in advance, but if that’s not the case, contact your doctors and pharmacy to find out what they can do for you. They want to work with you.

Have you ever run out of meds?

Show me some love!

Safe Medications To Take While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to provide a healthy start for your baby. The benefits are well researched. Unfortunately, the postpartum period is a dangerous time for bipolar mothers. Bipolar disorder can even be triggered by childbirth. There is a 50% chance of relapse during the postpartum period, primarily into depression, but there is also a significant risk for hypomania or mania. Fortunately, there are safe medications to take while breastfeeding.

Medication should only be taken if the benefits outweigh the risks of exposure to the infant. All psychotropic medications studied enter breastmilk. It’s just a matter of how much will pass to your baby. Medications that have a 10% or less exposure rate–how much of the maternal dose is passed to the infant–are deemed “safe”, or at the very least safer.

breastfeeding
Credit to flickr.com user myllissa. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are largely considered safe for breastfeeding mothers and their babies. A great deal of the research on medication use during breastfeeding is concentrated on SSRIs. Of the tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft) have a limited exposure to newborns. There have only been a few cases where infants showed adverse effects to antidepressants.

Anti-anxiety agents exhibit similar results to antidepressants, with a great deal of the data pointing to few adverse reactions in infants, and low exposure rates. Many mood stabilizers, on the other hand, are secreted in high amounts in breastmilk and show a risk for toxicity in infants. There is very limited data on antipsychotics, especially atypical antipsychotics, but olanzapine, Risperidone (RisperiDAL), and quetiapine (Seroquel) show promising results.

Here are some of the most common choices for breastfeeding mothers:

Lithium

Lithium is concentrated in breastmilk–secreted between zero and 30% of maternal dosage–and there is a risk of lithium toxicity in in infants, so breastfeeding is discouraged unless the mother doesn’t respond to other medications on the market. A 2000 case review reported lithium toxicity in two cases out of eleven. Symptoms of toxicity include hypothermia, poor muscle tone, and lethargy. The pediatrician will take blood draws to monitor the baby’s thyroid, creatinine, and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) every six to eight weeks.

Olanzapine

Breastfeeding while taking Olanzapine has been studied much more than other medications due in part to a database collected by the manufacturer. There was a study which reported that the exposure rate is roughly 1.8%. Adverse reactions showed up in 15.6% of the babies, including tremor, insomnia, and irritability.

Quetiapine (Seroquel)

Quetiapine does not easily pass through breastmilk, with studies reporting 0.09% of the maternal dosage excreted. Unfortunately, a study found that one third of the babies reviewed showed some neurodevelopmental delay, but the mothers were taking other medications at the time, so no one knows for sure if it was the quetiapine that contributed.

Lamotrigine (Lamictal)

Lamictal is considered one of the safer medications for breastfeeding mothers, despite a study measuring up to 9.2% of the maternal dosage in breastmilk. The only adverse effect reported was thrombocytosis. The downside with Lamictal is that it takes four to six weeks to reach a therapeutic dose, so doctors recommend that medication use starts during the pregnancy.

Valproic acid (Depakote)

Depakote is also considered safe for breastfeeding. Only 1.7% of the maternal dosage passes into breastmilk due to its high plasma protein binding. Some adverse effects, such as liver damage, have been reported. However, because pediatricians prescribe Depakote to children, it has been deemed compatible with breastfeeding.

Risperidone (RisperiDAL)

Approximately 2.3% to 4.7% of the maternal dosage of Risperidone is secreted through the breastmilk, and no adverse effects have been reported in infants.

All medications taken while breastfeeding will be closely monitored by the baby’s pediatrician, especially lithium. Medication should only be considered for a breastfeeding mother after all of the risks have been discussed. In most cases, stability in the postpartum mother outweighs the risks of medication to the infant.

Did you take any medications while breastfeeding? Why or why not?

[Editor’s note: I could not have written this post without the invaluable article, “What to Tell Your Bipolar Patient Who Wants To Breastfeed,” by Wende Wood.]

Show me some love!

Stabilizing Medications: Risperidone and Wellbutrin

pill-picture
Risperidone, Wellbutrin, and a prenatal vitamin. © Cassandra Stout and The Bipolar Parent under a Creative Commons License.

I’ve covered lithium, Depakote, and Lamictal in the past, because that’s what I was taking. But I’ve since switched gears to Risperidone, an antipsychotic, and Wellbutrin, an antidepressant.

RisperiDAL (Risperidone)

Risperidone is an antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as irritability in people with autism. It is an antitypical psychotic which can be taken orally or injected into a muscle, and no one knows exactly how it works. Common side effects include weight gain, headache and dizziness, feeling hot or cold, and stomach pain. There are quite a few side effects, most of which I didn’t have to deal with, thankfully. Serious side effects include tardive dyskinesia, which is a slow-onset movement disorder involving the involuntary jerking around of the head or body as well as grimacing, rapid blinking, or lip smacking. The increased risk of suicide is also a concern. Risperidone costs between 100 US dollars and 200 per month.

Bupropion (Wellbutrin)

Wellbutrin is an antidepressant known as a norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI). This means that it blocks the reabsorption of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, leading to more of them present in the cells, which contributes to more stable moods. The most concerning side effect is an increase in risk for epileptic seizures. Because it’s an NDRI, Wellbutrin does not contribute as much to sexual dysfunction or weight gain as much as other antidepressants. Wellbutrin also reduces cravings for cigarettes.

Taking these medications has helped me maintain a stable lifestyle. A more “normal” lifestyle. I took them while I was pregnant, and avoided serious depressive or manic episodes during my pregnancy.

Show me some love!

How to Work Out with a 40-pound Parasite Clinging to Your Leg

Or, to be more politically correct, “How to Exercise with Kids.”

As we’ve discussed in our previous post, exercise is one of the best activities you can do for your body and mind–especially if you have a mood disorder.  But parents often lack the time to tend to themselves. Between shuttling their children off to school, cleaning up potty-training accidents, and managing their own health care, exercise easily slips through the cracks of life.

However, like shredded zucchini hidden in a brownie, you can sneak in a workout while your kids play.  Here are some ideas:

If you have five minutes: Dance with your toddlers or play the game of, “catch me, catch me!” While pushing your kid in a swing, do some quick squats. Throw a ball and try to get to it before your playmates.  You can also get a good grip on their bodies and use them as curling weights.

If you have the strength, lie down on the floor and have your kid attach himself to your legs while you hold onto his arms. Lift your legs slowly, hold for a few seconds, drop quickly—and then repeat. These have never failed to produce shrieks of laughter from my son, Ryan.

If you have ten minutes: Strap weights to your wrists and ankles, or carry two gallons of milk. Pump your arms and lift your knees when you walk around the block or jog in place. After ten minutes, take them off.  Try again for another ten minutes, later.

If you have older kids or teenagers, play soccer or a sport of their choice. Get your heart rate up as much as you can.

If you have thirty minutes: If your kids still nap, try to squeeze in some exercise along with everything else you do during that “free” time. Hustle when you do chores or gardening. In addition to powerwalking between errands or running up and down stairs, you may be able to devote some time to a short yoga or aerobics video.

You can also purchase a jogging stroller, but watch out—these are inordinately expensive. But, as useful as the $20 umbrella strollers are for navigating through airports, they won’t cut it for intense exercises like running.

If you have an hour: Wow, lucky you! If you’re in this position, swimming is a great low-impact exercise, but if you’re looking to really sweat and can afford it, try a dance class or possibly martial arts. I’d highly recommend finding a suitable YMCA—with childcare available. Even if you never plan to use it, knowing that someone can watch your children during your workout in case your other arrangements fall apart is a relief.

Don’t be discouraged if you have physical disabilities! There are many braces, props, and specialized classes available to assist you. Yoga classes are especially accommodating. Swimming is easiest on the joints and can serve as a wonderful substitute for those who cannot lift weights. Team sports such as baseball leagues for the blind and basketball for persons in wheelchairs burn calories while building camaraderie, but there are solo sports like skiing available as well.

Best of luck in pursuing the best workout for you!

Not meant to take the place of a treatment plan created with licensed professionals.

Show me some love!

Bipolar? Exercise Will Change Your Life

Many apologies for the missed posts last week! I’ve been tripping into mania, so managing my day to day life has been a struggle lately. Thank you for your patience!

When it comes to actions you can take to improve your quality of life, exercising regularly is largely considered the uncontested champion. As we covered in our post Why Weight Gain is Devastating to the Mentally Ill, a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet are linked to a worsening of bipolar and schizophrenic symptoms and decreased functioning. One of the triggers of depressive episodes is reduced physical activity, which is only the start of a vicious cycle.

A comprehensive review of research from 1966 to 2008 proved that scheduled exercise dramatically improves both the body and mind in persons with bipolar disorder. Not only does exercise flood someone with endorphins, studies indicate that it reduces the “allostatic load“, which is the damage done to your body from chronic stress.

Despite all of these good things, I know how difficult it can be to start exercising—much less follow a routine. But, starting slow is better than not starting at all. If you’re like me and can’t handle—or don’t have the time for—an hour-long workout, then just try walking for twenty minutes per day, ten minutes at a time. Eventually, you can build on your small triumphs. In our next post, we’ll cover how to squeeze in a workout around your kids’ schedules and a little bit about what to do if you have physical disabilities.

Make sure to pack plenty of healthy snacks and water to refresh yourself—and your little ones—during and after your workouts. If you are taking medications, do not become dehydrated! Lithium is especially dangerous to dehydrated persons because the body retains it when losing fluids. This can lead to lithium toxicity, which means the level in your blood has built up faster than it can be excreted by the kidneys. Side effects include dizziness, diarrhea, and vomiting, which worsens fluid loss. If the level is especially concentrated, you may slip into a coma or enter a psychotic state, both of which can damage you neurologically.

As always, please consult a physician before trying any program which involves changes to your levels of physical activity. Please ask your doctor about the effects your medications may have on your body during periods of high exertion, and to what extent you are able to work out in order to avoid symptoms like dizziness. A trained medical professional will recommend exercises tailored to your needs and health.

So start slow and good luck!

What is your favorite way to get moving and grooving?

Show me some love!

Good, Good, Good, Good Nutrition!

Anyone who has seen the documentary Super Size Me knows that Morgan Spurlock, who deliberately ate the most unhealthy meals at McDonald’s for a month, plunged into a deep depression by the second week of filming. Our moods are lifted by healthy food and destroyed by processed junk.

While good nutrition is vital for everyone’s health, research shows that it is especially so to those of us with mood disorders. A 2012 review by the University of Washington revealed that poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle may be coupled with “increased severity of symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder or decreased level of functioning.” 

Unfortunately, psychiatric patients tend to have “many nutrient inadequacies … and occasional excesses,” which translates to both a lack of essential vitamins and minerals and too many fats–in numbers even worse than the neurotypical population. With regard to vitamins, a broad-spectrum pre-natal with folic acid is also a boon if you’re vitamin-deficient.  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) have also shown promise in helping with depression, though the research is controversial.

However, please speak to your doctor before making any changes. Maintaining a healthy diet is made even trickier due to mood episodes. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, cutting fat out of your diet entirely can tip you into a manic or depressed state. Sugar is terrible for the bipolar-inclined, as it is linked with severe depression. Likewise, alcohol and caffeine should be avoided like the plague. As a contrast, lean proteins and fresh produce are wonderful, but expensive.  

A rough guideline for anyone with aneurotypical brain chemistry is to look for Zinc (red meat), B-vitamins (fish), and vitamin C (oranges).  Drinking as much water as you can is incredibly useful.  And you’ll need to pay even more attention to diet if you are pregnant, something that almost goes without saying.  

Anyone who plans to make dietary changes is advised to consult a nutritionist—provided they can afford one. I know it’s difficult to stick to changes regarding food or exercise plans, especially if you have to think about making healthy lunches for your children before school. But every little bit helps.

What healthy snack or activity have you found lifts your mood the best? What tends to lower it? Do you have a comfort food, and if so, what is it?

Not meant to take the place of a treatment plan created with licensed professionals.

Show me some love!