What is the Link Between Stress and Bipolar Disorder?

Are you feeling stress? Stress exacerbates your bipolar disorder. Learn how in this post on the Bipolar Parent!

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The Link Between Stress and Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Stress affects everything in your body, from your shoulders to your hormones, from your immune system to your mental illnesses. Stress is a physical issue, just like bipolar disorder, as both mess with your feel-good chemicals.

There are different types of stress. There’s good stress (also called eustress), which can motivate you to make dinner on time and meet deadlines at work. Good stress is infrequent, usually not repeated, and short-lived, leaving you better off than you were before you encountered the stress.

Bad stress, on the other hand, lingers. It lasts a long time and repeats frequently, leaving you much worse off than you were before.

But stress is even worse for people who suffer from mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder. People with mental health conditions tend to be unable to handle stress as well as neurotypical people. For people with bipolar disorder, even small, inconsequential decisions can stress us out. If we feel stress during everyday decisions, then the fact that stress exacerbates bipolar disorder symptoms makes sense.

Bipolar disorder and stress, especially bad stress, are a nasty combination. Stress is a known trigger for both hypomanic and depressive episodes–and sometimes even mixed episodes.

My Experience with Stress

Different types of stresses affect me in different ways. Before a long road trip or a flight, I get riled up and anxious without fail. I definitely have racing thoughts and other symptoms of hypomania, minus the euphoria. Sleeping becomes difficult, which only exacerbates the manic feelings.

On the flip side, feeling stressed about my messy house depresses me. The link between clutter and depression is very real, as having items on the floor focuses me to make decisions about them (specifically, whether to put them away or leave them there) every time you walk past them. After a full day of making many, many decisions and (usually) not taking any action on the items, I suffer decision fatigue, which for me leads to depression.

When I’m stress-depressed, I often berate myself for my inability to pick up the house. I know rationally that my laziness isn’t really laziness, but is a problem called executive dysfunction, which stress also makes worse.

Executive dysfunction is the inability to prioritize tasks, and determine the order of actions. Stress makes prioritizing and deciding on which actions to take very difficult, which is common for those of us who suffer mental illness.

(For a post on the link between bipolar disorder and executive functioning, click here.)

When I’m stressed, my ability to handle my responsibilities falters significantly, which only leads to more stress. I am reduced to a ruminating mess, turning in circles and chasing my own tail. Bad stress makes me completely incapable of acting like a functional adult.

Take Care of Yourself: Destress

If you want to improve your bipolar disorder symptoms, you need to manage your stress levels. Being constantly stressed, especially with bad stress, will lead to a mood episode.

Sometimes you can make big changes, like getting a new job or finding a new living situation. Diet also plays a role in how well you’re able to handle stress, so a lifestyle change like eating healthier foods may help you fill up your tank.

Even small changes can help. Starting a yoga or taekwondo class can help you relax. Deep-breathing techniques may also reduce your stress.

Talking to a therapist is also a good idea. You can learn coping techniques and tools for handling stress throughout the rest of your life.

Above all, practice self-care. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it. Don’t neglect to eat regularly, get enough sleep, go outside, socialize with people face-to-face, drink enough water, and exercise. If you do most of these big six tenants of self-care on a daily basis, you will be better off.

Final Thoughts

Bad stress affects me in a lot of negative ways. I’m not the best at handling stressful situations. So I plan ahead for them. I make massive to-do lists, outlining each tiny step that I need to take in order to conquer the issue. And I practice self-care.

Bad stress may affect you despite your best efforts. You may end up living through many, many stressful situations throughout your life, like moves, marriages, and births. You need to lean on your coping tools during these times.

Plan ahead. Take the times when life is relatively calm to assess your ability to handle stress, and plan how you’ll respond to changes. If necessary, you can get a prescription for anti-anxiety medications that you take on an as-needed basis.

Effectively managing your stress will help you suffer less from your bipolar disorder.

Related:

The Link Between Stress and Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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Which Mental Health Professional Should You Use?

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Credit to flickr.com user Jonas Bengtsson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mental health professionals come in all types. When making the decision as to which doctor to start a treatment plan with, keep in mind that you can try several–as many as you can afford, that is. Your primary care physician can refer you to one or many of these mental health professionals.

 

Psychiatrist

A doctor trained in the medical field of psychiatry, including the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. The most important job of a psychiatrist is to prescribe medication for you. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are medical doctors. You will likely be referred to a psychiatrist at least once in your mental healthcare journey.

Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist

Just like it says on the tin, a child/adolescent psychiatrist is a medical doctor specifically trained to treat mental illnesses or behavioral problems in children. These professionals can and will prescribe medication.

Psychologist

A psychologist is a mental health professional with a doctoral degree in psychology who can diagnose and treat mental illnesses with courses of therapy. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists do not prescribe medication. There are two forms of psychology: applied psychology, which includes “practitioners,” and research-oriented psychology, which includes “scientists.” Psychologists are trained as researchers and practitioners.

Clinical Social Worker

A clinical social worker is a counselor with a master’s degree in social work who provides individual and group counseling. The social workers have three years or more of supervised experience. They do not prescribe medication.

Licensed Professional Counselor

A licensed professional counselor (LPC) is a counselor with a master’s degree in psychology and several years of supervised experience who offers individual and group counseling. In the U.S., the title varies by state, but the most common next to LPC is licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). The counselors do not prescribe medication.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor

A certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor is a mental health professional with specific training in substance abuse treatment. The counselor can provide individual and group counseling. The counselor does not prescribe medication.

Marital and Family Therapist

Marital and family therapists are professionals specializing in relationships between families, or couples. The therapists emphasize familial relationships as important to consider for your mental health. The counselors have master’s degrees in psychology and related fields, and do not prescribe medication.

Several types of mental health professionals are available to help you. These are just a few of them. A lot of the counselors seem interchangeable, but they all have different approaches, tailored to you.

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What Types of Therapies Are Right For You?

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Credit to flickr.com user John Graham. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Therapy is a crucial part of treatment. There are several different types of therapies that your mental health professional may encourage you to take.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common types of psychotherapy, and is often preferred by many mental health professionals. During CBT, you work with a therapist to challenge negative thinking and develop constructive beliefs. That’s the cognitive part. The behavioral part helps you act on these beliefs.

CBT can be conducted one-on-one, or along with family, or with other people who have similar issues in a group setting. During CBT, you will learn about your mental illness and practice relaxation techniques and coping methods.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy focuses on the relationships you have with others, being based on the principle that relationships affect your moods. IPT also helps you express your emotions in healthy manners. The therapy is highly structured, and intended to finish in 12–16 weeks. IPT and CBT are the only therapies that are mandated for mental health professionals to be trained in.

Family Therapy

Family therapy goes by many names. To wit: it’s referred to as couple and family therapy, marriage and family therapy, family systems therapy, and family counseling. The driving force behind family therapy is the thought that involving family members benefits patients. People undergoing the therapy learn how to communicate with each other and solve problems.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy operates on the principle that you have unconscious habits and emotions which developed early in life and cause difficulties in daily functioning. The therapy focuses on revealing and resolving these unconscious problems. Dream interpretation and free association are often used. This therapy is a treatment of choice for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but largely used to treat personality disorders.

Art Therapy

Art therapy uses art such as music and painting to help you resolve problems and reduce stress. Art therapists will work with you to help tease out messages from your art. They are trained in artistic practices and psychological theory. You do not need to be artistically talented or trained to make use of art therapy.

Psychoeducation

Psychoeducation is just as it sounds: education about your mental illness from a mental health professional. Psychoeducation can occur in a one-on-one setting or a group session, where several people are informed about their illnesses at once. Family members can also benefit from learning about your mental health condition, and are encouraged to sit in on psychoeducation sessions.

There are several therapies out there, and not every therapy works for every person. Stick with your therapy at first, to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to try another.

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