It is a challenging undertaking to achieve stability with Bipolar Disorder. In my experience, most people find medication alone will not achieve full stability. Natural remedies, however, are very effective with the right guidance, if you have the financial capacity to manage the uncovered expenses. To use natural remedies effectively, you need the self-awareness to tune in to your body’s needs. You will need to set and follow a daily self-care regime. Let’s address the fine-tuning of managing this diagnosis.
I have addressed the importance of eating healthily, three times a day, in other posts. Interestingly, with this diagnosis, it is important to eat these meals on a schedule, and more importantly, find what schedule fits your body’s needs. It is crucial for everyone to not allow too much time to pass between meals and to make sure that each meal includes a complete protein as these are the building blocks of the brain and every other cell in the body. This means that your three meals a day (if you are an adult, 5-6 if you are a youth) need to be evenly spaced. If too much time passes between meals, your symptoms will escalate. It is also crucial that your meals are the right size. If a meal is too small, this will also increase your symptoms. With regularity, this is balancing act will become second nature. Remember, we need more self-care when we experience stress.
One approach to managing bipolar disorder is called Interpersonal Social Rhythm Theory. This theory includes both how to reduce the stress of relational conflict as well as managing social rhythms. Our eating schedule is one of these rhythms.
People with bipolar moods often find themselves being reactive in intimate relationships. This reactivity increases conflict and increases stress, which in turn increases symptoms. If folks with bipolar moods can learn to take space in relationships rather than jumping into conflict, symptoms have an opportunity to calm down rather than get heightened. When you feel calm, talk with your partner or spouse, parents or siblings about the rules of engagement. The first rule is that we address conflicts calmly and with respect. This might mean asking if the other person is ready to address a conflict and if not, scheduling a time. When you talk about the rules of engagement, you would address how to take space and agree to respect the other’s need for space. Then, if the conflict begins to escalate, one would say, “I’m taking space” and walk away. You will have addressed how long you need space, what is acceptable to do while taking space, and where you might take this space. Many couples agree not to drive, use alcohol or drugs during space taking, and not walk in dangerous places at night. When the time that one needs to calm down has passed, the two folks will come back together to attempt to resolve the conflict once again. This method helps reduce interpersonal stress.
There are a variety of rhythms that are important to keep consistent when managing bipolar moods. Sleep is a crucial component of managing one’s moods. Our bodies were designed with a photoreceptor in the eye which communicates to the hypothalamus regarding when to secrete melatonin to regulate our circadian rhythms. Because of this, it is important to sleep during darkness and be awake when the sun is up. Ideally, we would sleep 7-9 hours between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. I’ve written other blogs which explain Dark Therapy, an effective tool for reducing symptoms. Set a time in the evening to wind down and help you go to sleep. So, it is helpful to have some evening activities that contribute to a calm mind. This could include reading, a creative project, hot baths or showers, pajamas, and grooming behaviors.
Other rhythms which need to be fairly consistent include work schedules, exercise, and other self-care. It is extremely important that people with bipolar disorder work during the day and never work at night. Working at night and sleeping during the day is very likely to trigger and exacerbate bipolar episodes. My son, who died 7 years ago, suicided after working the graveyard shift for 4-6 months. It can have such a dire impact on mood that some commit suicide.
Exercise and other self-care need to be fairly consistent also. Ideally, one would exercise in the morning, but if that’s not possible, one will exercise as early as possible in the day. One should not exercise in the evening unless they are only fighting depression and not mania. Exercising in the evening can increase mania. Meditation and other calming self-care can be done any time of the day and preferably would be done daily.
Please peruse other posts on managing depression, anxiety, grief and Bipolar Disorder to discover all the many helpful tools in managing these troublesome moods.
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