Stress is normal. In today’s busy world, it’s almost impossible to avoid it unless you plan on settling into a quiet bunker on the moon.
Even then, there are plenty of things to worry about, like oxygen supply and how to air out the bathroom.
Anxiety is a natural reaction to stressful situations, but often anxiety of perceived things—whether or not they may happen—can make things even more difficult. When anxiety lingers, it can cloud even the simplest of experiences.
Dealing with stress in a healthy way is important. However, not everyone has yet learned ways to adequately deal with stress and anxiety, which can be especially overbearing with a condition such as bipolar disorder.
Dr. David M. Reiss, a psychiatrist in private practice and interim medical director of Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, Mass., said people with bipolar disorder are more vulnerable to any type of stress or anxiety, whether it be emotional, situational, practical, or physiological.
"The general advice for persons with bipolar is not very different than the advice I would give anyone (including those with no diagnosis), other than that persons who tend to become manic need to be careful in using some 'stress-reduction' techniques that may tend to push them into obsessional or manic states," Dr. Reiss said. "Specifically, those people need to be careful to avoid obsessional exercise, long periods of meditation that could trigger cognitive disorganization, excessive fantasy, etc."
You've probably heard it before, but when things get hectic, it's important to breathe.
Stress and anxiety release a flood of hormones in the body, which increase heart rate and energy. These are helpful to propel your body away from a charging wildebeest, but unless that's the case, they'll cause unnecessary stress on your body.
Stopping what you're doing and taking calm, deep breaths is a natural way to signal to your body that you aren't in any immediate danger, slowing the flood of adrenaline and lowering your heart rate so you can think clearly.
Don't Deny What is Going On
"For minor anxiety, be careful not to fall into denial," Dr. Reiss said. "Do not try to medicate every minor mood change—that will cause more problems than it helps. Learn to differentiate between benign mood fluctuations and serous changes or 'warning signs.'"
Lean on Others
Dr. Reiss recommends that when anxiety is present, or you feel yourself stumbling, that is when it's most important to look for help. He recommends a psychiatrist who knows how to combine use of medication with non-medical interventions to help to determine if there needs to be a change in medication, or if other behavioral techniques may be sufficient.
"Of course, it is important to have a counselor/therapist or a peer mentor who can help to 'keep you honest'—supportively confront you if there are signs of either mania or depression," Dr. Reiss said. "Having trusted person(s) who can do this can relieve the fear and anxiety of falling into an affective episode, fear and anxiety that can be disruptive of happiness and stability and self-fulfilling."
It's important to remind yourself that it is not your friends' responsibility to keep you "up," but it is your responsibility to seek out connections with people to maintain stability and to enjoy yourself, Dr. Reiss said.
Also, it's important to note who you have a relationship with, from casual acquaintances, to casual friends, to close friends, to intimate relationships and family relationships.
"All of these types of relationships are important," Dr. Reiss said. "Try not to become dependent upon just a few people."
Keeping distance from persons who have bad habits or are a negative influence is also important, as your safety must come first.
"End any relationship that involves substance abuse, hostility, violence or severe incompatibility," Dr. Reiss said. "Relationship counseling may be helpful, but not every relationship should be maintained, and once a certain degree of trust is lost, it may be irretrievable."
Try to Be Objective
It can seem tough, especially during the height of anxiety, but you need to examine your fears as objectively as possible. If you take a moment—and some deep breaths—to take an objective look at what you're worried about, you can help control your anxiety by seeing it away from the emotional and mental turmoil of anxiety.
If you can objectively see your problems for what they are, you can begin to take immediate control of the situation, control your reaction to it, and begin to work on a solution.
You had a bad day at work and want your boyfriend or girlfriend to come over to make you feel better, but he or she is busy. You become upset at him or her and yell that he or she cares about your feelings.
The reality of the situation is that no one can drop everything for you, and your boyfriend or girlfriend wouldn't be with you if he or she didn't care about your feelings. It's unfortunate he or she isn't available immediately, but you can't always be available every second either.
Getting to know yourself is one of the best ways to help with your mental health. You can use a journal—which could be something as simple as a plain notebook or even a stack of napkins—as a means to vent your frustrations, stressors, anxieties, and more. Think of your journal as an objective, non-judgmental listener who is always ready to hear what you have to say so you can release your tension before it builds up.
There are no right and wrong ways to journal. Sometimes you may feel like jotting down the events of the day (I had a good day at work and then I went to therapy…) or you can use it for some serious venting (I just don't get some people!) Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, or anything else that might hold you back from writing. Your journal is private. It is yours.
But, if there's any one guideline that should be followed with journaling it's that you should avoid blaming anyone for your problems, including yourself. Express your emotions, but don't fall victim to attributing them to one thing.
Example: Today was a rough day. Things were going fine at work until I had my big project returned to me with corrections. I don't get it! Why do people have to be so nit-picky about everything? Can't they see I worked hard on it? What is their problem? I was upset about the corrections I had to make, but it's no big deal because outside of a few small details, everyone was happy with my work.
Bipolar disorder does just as its name implies: it creates two kinds of disorders in the brain—mania and depression. The goal of any successful treatment is finding stabilization between the two, which is why lithium, a mood stabilizer, is one of the most popular pharmaceutical treatments available.
Meditation is like the mind's natural form of lithium (although it is no replacement for those prescribed any medication by a doctor)—it offers a mind a chance to calm itself while freeing it from the typical mental shackles of stress, anxiety, and worry.
Meditation doesn't mean shaving your head and wearing baggy pajamas everywhere. Meditation can be done in the comfort of your own home, without much fuss. To begin, all you need is a quiet, secluded space with something comfortable to sit on. You begin simply by breathing calmly and focusing on the breath entering and leaving your body. This exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is a symbolic way of how you are constantly affecting your environment.
There's more to the practice of meditation than just that, but those are the beginner's steps to clearing your mind and finding a better understanding of things.
Once you begin to explore the very nature of your existence and examine things at the basic level, you'll begin to have a better idea of the awe-inspiring beauty of this world.
Try to Get Your Mind Off of It
Lastly, Dr. Reiss recommends doing something safe and reasonable to comfort yourself: hobbies, exercise, entertainment, talking with friends, volunteer work, etc.
"Constantly worrying about your mood is the surest way to have a lousy mood," he said.