WHAT IS BIPOLAR DISORDER?
If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s important to understand what it is and what to look out for so you can pick up on the early warning signs that mania is setting in.
Bipolar Disorder, Type 1 is a mental illness characterized by having prolonged fluctuations between manic and major depressive episodes. Bipolar Disorder, Type II is characterized by fluctuations between hypomanic and major depressive episodes. Hypomania shares the same key symptoms as mania, but is generally less intense with a shorter duration. While you may experience high energy levels, hypomania may not cause the same debilitating problems in your life that mania can.
If you are diagnosed with either type of bipolar disorder, you may experience intense emotional instability and find it difficult to manage or regulate your symptoms if left untreated. Since mania is often misunderstood, it is important to gain a better understanding of this major component of bipolar disorder.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF MANIA
The transition into mania can be gradual and slow, and you may not even realize when the changes start to take place. If you are aware of the possible symptoms, it’s easier to prevent mania from taking over and get the help you need to return to your baseline. Some early warning signs and symptoms of mania can include a combination of any of the following:
Talking rapidly, unable to be understood easily: it’s often difficult to be able to tell if you are speaking quickly. One way to test this is to ask yourself if everyone else around you seems like they’re speaking slowly. Are they having a difficult time understanding you? Are they asking you to slow your speech? It may be easier to test yourself by picking up on others’ cues.
Irritability and frustration: if you find yourself more easily frustrated or irritated by others, especially over matters or incidents that normally wouldn’t bother you, this could be a sign that mania is setting in.
Restlessness or fidgety behavior: stop and notice what your body is doing. Are you able to sit still? Do you need to keep moving your fingers or tapping your feet? Test yourself by taking a moment to sit still in a quiet room. Can’t stop moving? It could be the onset of mania.
Inability or unwillingness to sleep: have your sleeping habits changed recently? Even if you feel like you have lots of energy, any changes in the amount you’re sleeping could be an indicator of a manic or depressive episode.
Disorganized or easily distracted: have you started a project but haven’t been able to follow through? Are you bouncing from task to task and can’t focus? Are you taking on more than you can chew?
Not keeping commitments or sticking to a schedule: it’s important to stick to a schedule when you have bipolar disorder. Are you having a difficult time sticking to your routine or keeping appointments?
Overspending: if you start to be careless with your money, buying things you normally wouldn’t, or making huge purchases without talking to someone else about it, it could be a sign that you are transitioning into or experiencing a manic episode.
Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity: while it’s important for everyone to have a healthy self-esteem and love themselves, people who are experiencing mania have an elevated self-esteem that is more like overly confident and arrogant to the point they feel like they’re on top of the world or invincible. Knowing your baseline level of self-esteem can help you determine if what you are experiencing is healthy self-love and self-esteem or if it’s mania.
Risk-taking: are you engaging in risky behaviors that you normally wouldn’t do? This can include driving fast, increased promiscuity, substance abuse, or other thrill-seeking behaviors.
Feeling euphoric: when people come out of a prolonged depressive episode, mania can seem enjoyable because of the feelings of euphoria that often accompany it. This feeling on its own is not dangerous, but is a good indicator that mania is setting in.
Keep in mind that not everyone will experience the same symptoms. You may experience none, some, or all of these. Everyone is different, so it’s important to know yourself, your baseline, and your common symptoms for when mania sets in.
HOW TO PREVENT MANIA AND MANAGE SYMPTOMS
If a manic episode seems to be approaching, it’s crucial to get support from others. If you are unsure if you are experiencing manic symptoms, ask your loved ones if they notice any changes in your behavior. Sometimes it can be difficult to self-reflect when you have bipolar disorder. You don’t have to go through this alone, so it’s important to have a solid support network that includes reliable family or friends, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist.
As soon as you start to veer away from your baseline, schedule an appointment with a professional to figure out what’s going on and how you can prevent it from getting worse. If it turns out that you aren’t sliding into depression or mania, no one will be disappointed at you for taking preventative measures or think that you wasted their time. Your mental health is a priority, and you should also be on the safe side.
Here are a few tangible tips to be able to detect those warning signs:
Refill your medication before it lapses: When you have a week or so left of pills, refill your prescription so there’s no gap. Nowadays you can schedule your meds to be delivered automatically, so there’s no need to manually refill the order every time.
Adhere to a daily routine or schedule: If you write out your schedule and have a similar routine every day, it will be easier to notice when you start to deviate from it.
Keep a sleep log: Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. In a sleep journal, write down how much sleep you get each night.
Stick to a financial budget: Keep a close eye on your income and, in particular, your spending. If you need help getting control over your finances, talk to a financial advisor, accountant, or even a responsible friend or family member.
Create a calm environment at home and avoid over-stimulating environments: If you have less things around to distract you and you keep a clean home, it will encourage a peaceful atmosphere and mood. This is especially important for your bedroom so you can have a relaxing, restful place to sleep.
Break down your goals into smaller, attainable tasks: If there’s a large goal you want to achieve, each step towards that main goal should be a small goal you can accomplish along the way. For example, if you want a new job, the goal wouldn’t be “get a new job.” Smaller attainable goals would be: write a resume, write a cover letter, spend 20 minutes a day to research jobs, apply to one job a week, make one new contact a week, etc.
Maintain healthy habits that promote both physical and mental wellness: Eating healthy and exercising regularly can improve your overall wellness, including your emotional wellness. This includes avoiding drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and energy drinks that can be overstimulating.
Have a friend or family member who will practice these healthy behaviors alongside you: When you have someone in your life who will be a good role model for you, and who will hold you accountable, you will be more likely to succeed. Having positive people in your life is important. Spend less time with people who exhibit unhealthy behaviors.
Slow down and practice mindfulness: Meditation and mindfulness are great tools for getting in touch with your emotions and finding peace. With practice, you’ll be able to have a deeper awareness of your emotions and tell when you’re transitioning away from your baseline.
If you are in drug or alcohol recovery, go to an AA or 12-step meeting and talk to your sponsor: Drug and alcohol use can exacerbate manic symptoms, so if you are feeling any urges, it’s important to get support early on.
YOU CAN BE IN CONTROL OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Living with bipolar disorder can be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a happy, productive, and balanced life. With support, guidance, and professional help you can live the life you want. Don’t let mental illness control you. You have the power to regulate your emotions, reach your goals, and find peace.
Therapy can provide you with the tools you need to effectively manage your life. If you need one-on-one support, we offer counseling for adults struggling with bipolar disorder, as well as their loved ones who are in a supportive role. Contact Dr. Heather Violante, Psy.D. today at 954.391.5305 ext. 8 or at her website to find out how we can help you improve your emotional wellness and guide you on your pathway to new beginnings.
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