Stress & Anxiety

Anxiety is one of many troubling symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The fluctuation in emotions of bipolar disorder can cause uneasiness and worry. Experiencing periods of depression and mania can cause anxiety because during both of these phases it is difficult to remain in control and find stability.

While not often studied together, a few studies have estimated that as many as 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder have an anxiety disorder. One study in 2004 showed that more than 30 percent of bipolar disorder patients experience panic attacks.

Stress and anxiety can further complicate bipolar symptoms, putting strain on already taxed emotions and mental state. Allowing stress to build can further create more anxiety, which can fuel both mania and depression.   

Stress is oftentimes unavoidable. In today's society, you have to work, which is a huge source of anxiety, to make money (which causes more anxiety), but also takes away your time, preventing you from doing what you want.

Work, money, time, and relationships are some of the biggest stressors people face on a daily basis. While you can't eliminate stress and anxiety from your life, you can alter your reaction to stressful events.

Here are some ways to help prevent stress and anxiety in your life:

Use 'the Relaxation Response'

Dr. Jason Evan Mihalko, a certified psychologist working out of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., said that stress is one of the most manageable things of all.

"Many people know about the fight or flight response—a biological response to stress where our bodies become prepared to either run to safety or fight. What many people don't know is that we have also designed an antidote to fight or flight: the relaxation response," he said. "Through simple deep breathing exercises, visualizing a pleasant scene, or soothing ourselves through the five senses, we can induce this relaxation response." 

When we're able to relax, many things happen, Dr. Mihalko said, including decreased metabolism, slower heartbeat, relaxed muscles, slowed breathing, lowered blood pressure, increased levels of nitiric oxide (an important chemical compound in protecting vital organs and Science's Molecule of the Year in 1992), and our general sense of well-being and calm increases.

Prioritize

It's human to feel overwhelmed when there are a million things to do at once—work, school, kids, marriage, friends, family, etc. can all lead to worry.  Coupled with the unpredictable nature of bipolar disorder, anxiety can create havoc inside your mind.

The key to preventing stress and anxiety build up—with or without bipolar disorder—is determining which is the most important and what can be done first. We often lose focus of why we're doing so many things, so concentrating on what's most important can be an easy way to eliminate clutter in our lives.

It's important that your therapy for bipolar disorder remains a main priority. You may think you don't have time for it, but know that if you skip on treatment, you're only making things worse for yourself. 

Lists are a great way to keep track of what you should be doing and what's the most important thing to do first. Lists are a great way of tackling some of the quick and easy things first, allowing you to cross tasks off your list and gaining a sense of accomplishment.

Here's an example of what a list might look like:

  1. Take medications
  2. Email boss about vacation
  3. Pick up dry cleaning
  4. Meet Shirley for lunch
  5. Buy groceries

Limit Yourself

Even super heroes can't be everywhere at once. You can spend all day, every day attempting to do it all, but that won't leave you with enough time or energy to stop and enjoy life. Plus, the stress generated by attempting to do it all could only aggravate your mood. 

You may want to work full-time, prepare a good dinner every night, volunteer with a local charity, organize events, and do more, but there's a good chance you'll only stress yourself out, lose sleep, lose your temper, and create more problems for yourself.

Instead of trying to do everything, focus your energy and attention on doing a few things well. If you can afford it, hire some help around the house to do a little cleaning and the laundry. If you can't afford it, ask everyone to help pitch in.

Think of your tasks as things you are buying with your time. You can try to buy a 120-bedroom house, but they're all going to get dirty and broken down without regular maintenance. Besides, you don't need all that space. You can afford (with your time) a nice two-bedroom house and make it the best one you've ever seen. In essence, don't buy more than you can maintain.

Break Away

No matter your responsibilities, you need time for yourself. You need time to be able to collect your head, think things through, or even let your mind wander. This is especially important if you're feeling manic and can't concentrate.

The occasional weekend getaway can do wonders, but even being left alone for a few minutes when you get home can clear your mind. Let people know you need a moment to unwind and clear your head before getting down to business. 

Some easy ways to sneak a moment to yourself is going for a walk, reading in a quiet place, going to the park, or just laying down in bed for a minute. No matter how you want to escape, make sure you can when things get to be too much.

Find Support

Friends and family can be the best listeners. They can be your greatest ally against welling stress and anxiety when coupled with bipolar disorder. They also provide a more objective insight into your problems and can help you spot stressful patterns. If all else fails, they can help you get a good laugh in when you need it most.  

Therapists are trained listeners, and there's no shame in seeing someone to help you talk through your problems. There are numerous types of therapy available, and the right one can help you express your emotions in a constructive way.

Take Care of Yourself

Mental health is directly related to physical health. Eating a balanced diet—void of sugary, deep fried, high fat, high sodium, and other harmful foods—can help your body get in shape to handle stress better. If your body is already under stress from harmful substances, it won't be as ready to handle outside stress as well.

Be wary of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs as a way to relax. They may take the edge off for the time being, but they'll only create more health problems down the road.

Learn which foods to eat (and avoid) to help your body deal with the stress of anxiety.

Sleep

Sleep is one of the first things to suffer under a busy, stressful schedule, but it should be the first thing that gets attention. We often skip sleep to tackle our to-do lists, but by doing that we're robbing our body of rest, which leaves it more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and illness.

Exercise

If your mind won't rest when it's time to get some sleep, you should incorporate some exercise into your day. Even if you're snoring the second your head hits the pillow, exercise is a vital way to not only handle stress, but to keep your body in tune to accept any challenge.

Hitting the gym or going for a run after work is a great way to beat stress, as well as give you time to think. Start incorporating it into your routine and see how quickly you can become addicted to good habits.

Plan

There will always be unforeseen circumstances, but when you plan in advance, you'll know what's next and how to prepare for it. A day planner, smart phone, or email reminders are great ways to keep yourself accountable while giving your mind a second to concentrate on something other than what you're supposed to be doing next.