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Stress and Bipolar Disorder

M

Moonsher

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Hello everyone,
This is my first time posting but I wanted to share my own experience with bipolar disorder and a little bit of research that I have done related to stress and bipolar disorder.

I've had multiple manic and depressive episodes and been in and out of the hospital ever since I was a sophomore in college. As of today, it's been around a year since my last visit to the psych ward. I am currently medicated and slowly getting my life back together. I hope everyone that is currently suffering from bipolar disorder can find a way to receive help like I did and find something that works for them. I know everyone's experience is different but one thing I realized that might be similar for all of us is how stress affects our lives. When I had my first manic episode, before I even knew that I had bipolar disorder, I was in a situation that was very stressful for me. While people have different tolerance levels for stress, I was not able to handle being on a college swim team, studying for pre-med, socializing with friends and unfortunately getting into drugs all at the same time. What eventually happened was a mental breakdown that changed my life forever. Since then I've had to change schools and have had a continuous battle with an addiction to marijuana that has made it hard for me to recover completely. I never realized how much stress played a part in my bipolar disorder until I did some research and reflected on my past experiences. The way I would cope with stress or put myself in stressful situations at work or school was often terrible for my mental health. Pushing myself too hard or relying on drugs as an escape almost always resulted in hospitalization. I am fortunate to have had the support from my family and friends that I did, or otherwise I may not have recovered as quickly as I have. I still struggle with issues of self-esteem and sometimes taking care of myself, but I am in a much better place than I was now.

A lot of the research I am about to provide might seem obvious, but some people might be unaware that managing stress is even more important for people with bipolar disorder.

Kim, E. Y., Miklowitz, D. J., Biuckians, A., Mullen, K. (2007). Life stress and the course of early-onset bipolar disorder, Journal of Affective Disorders, 99(1-3), 37-44.

To be brief, in this study, chronic life stress studied in adolescents predicted less improvement in both depression and mania after measuring mood symptoms alongside ratings of stress. Higher levels of chronic stress in intimate relationships predicted less improvement in depression and mania, and higher levels of stress in peer relationships predicted less improvement in mania. In summary, chronic stress is bad for symptoms of bipolar disorder and depending on the type of stress, can make mania or depression worse. That said, stress is impossible to completely avoid but if there is a way to minimize or reduce the amount of it, it can benefit greatly for recovery.

Cohen, A. N., Hammen, C., Henry, R. M., Daley, S. E. (2004). Effects of stress and social support on recurrence in bipolar disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 82(1), 143-147.

This study examines stress in concordance with social support. Again, to avoid boring people with the details, fewer and poorer quality social relationships paired with life stress resulted in a higher recurrence of manic or depressive episodes. When looking at just social support, prediction of a recurrent episode was limited for depressive episodes. I'd say the takeaway from this is even more alarming than the previous study. Stress can cause people to relapse or experience episodes of mania or depression especially if they don't have the right social support. For those who can afford to get a therapist or are lucky enough to have an understanding family, please use them to your advantage. They are there to help you and bipolar disorder is usually not something you can handle by yourself.

Overall, please be aware of the stress in your lives and manage it accordingly. Don't put yourself into unnecessary situations of stress and while I understand it is unavoidable at times, try to set up a good support system for yourself for times when you do encounter it. Make sure to find healthy activities as a way to cope and unwind, rather than relying on drugs or temporary forms of relief. I believe everyone has a path to recovery and it just takes time. Please don't lose hope and stick with whatever plan you have at the moment.
 
Tawny

Tawny

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What about hormones and seasonal changes?

stress also started my illness
 
S

SFGuy

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Stress is a great discussion topic.

It's a giant trigger for me. Often, I want to take on a challenge (say, take a class, enter an art competition, go on a trip, etc.), but I have to be aware of the amount of stress it will cause. I have limited resilience, so it's kind of like having a stress budget. If I take on challenge A, then I can't do B right now because the two add up to more stress than I can handle without getting symptoms. I get disappointed that I can't do more, but I try to follow therapists' advice and accept the limitations gracefully. Still, I resent them sometimes.

Unanticipated stressors are a killer. I use most of my resilience to do what I want, so I don't have anything left for surprises. If I get hit hard, I try to take it easy on myself and drop some challenge so I don't get overwhelmed and symptomatic. I am rarely 100% successful, and tend to have at least a mild depressed mood or experience mixed states. I also turn to PRN meds to reduce depression/hypomania/etc.

Some meds and some psychotherapy (especially DBT) have reduced my sensitivity to things that stress me, like intense social functions. It's great to have them onboard because they let me do more things than I could otherwise.
 
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tiltawhirl3

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thank you! I am reading a book with a co-author neuroscientist. He is explaining how stress changes our brains.
I know that for myself I do need to limit stress as much as I can.
 
LunaBloodmist

LunaBloodmist

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I've been wondering a lot on how to better handle stress. My job is high stress, but I love what I do. I'm not happy with the answer of changing my career. I also feel guilty for not working full time, I have a lot of debt, but I'd rather not lose another job. I know I can handle it I just get a little spazzy sometimes....I also feel that I'm ruining my relationship. What ways do you guys cope when you feel stressed?
 
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2Much2Feel

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Hey, Moonsher, welcome to the forum and thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah, my last move kind of put me over the edge, the stress of it on top of the holidays on top of covid. I hear you. Thank you.
 
K

keith74

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Stress is probably the #1 trigger for people with bipolar. It certainly is for my wife. Nearly every episode she has had has been triggered by stress. Stress management has been crucial for her stability.
 
S

SFGuy

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Stress is probably the #1 trigger for people with bipolar. It certainly is for my wife. Nearly every episode she has had has been triggered by stress. Stress management has been crucial for her stability.
Keith, what stress management tools/methods work the best and are most important for your wife? Where did she learn them?
 
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keith74

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She does a number of things to keep her stress level down. The biggest key is that she found a work environment that she finds less stressful. It took her a long time to dial down her "competitiveness" and accepting that working full time in a high pressure job is not something that is good for her. She now works part time in a job she is comfortable and content with - and is not trying to chase something "better". She is also learning not to over-extend herself - both at work and outside it. It is ok to live a "simple" life. She is also big on the "mind-body" connection. When her health is poor, it really causes her anxiety and stress. So she is trying to live a really health life. This includes always prioritizing her sleep, eating as healthy as she can, exercise, no substances like alcohol or weed. She also practices yoga and meditation. She has also taken courses for CBT and DBT, which she finds helpful when she finds herself in a stressful situation. Other triggers for her are her family and she has learned that while they are very close, they can also trigger her and she is trying to create health boundaries with them.
 
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SFGuy

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It is ok to live a "simple" life.
That is such a wonderful thing to learn. When I'm hypomanic, I become obsessed with chasing a "gold star." It can be almost anything. The drive to achieve fuels a hypomanic cycle, which rarely ends well unless I see it and stop it, usually with the help of my psychiatrist and my husband.

Thank you for sharing the strategies your wife uses to stay afloat. They're great reminders. She must be a strong woman and she is blessed with a supportive, understanding husband.

I'm going to be working on accepting and enjoying the simple life.
 
K

keith74

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Thanks for the kind words!

That is such a wonderful thing to learn. When I'm hypomanic, I become obsessed with chasing a "gold star." It can be almost anything. The drive to achieve fuels a hypomanic cycle, which rarely ends well unless I see it and stop it, usually with the help of my psychiatrist and my husband.
When you are (hypo)manic, that is standard behavior and tough to rein in. The key with the "ok with simple life" thing is to be mindful of it when at baseline. When my wife is at her stable baseline, she can start to get a little "bored" with all the stability and structure. She starts taking on various projects and causes which excite her but start to add stress to her life. When it gets too stressful, she gets in trouble with her moods. She is really trying to be mindful that the "simple life" brings stability and less stress and that is best for her.
 
Zana

Zana

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Overall, please be aware of the stress in your lives and manage it accordingly. Don't put yourself into unnecessary situations of stress and while I understand it is unavoidable at times, try to set up a good support system for yourself for times when you do encounter it. Make sure to find healthy activities as a way to cope and unwind, rather than relying on drugs or temporary forms of relief. I believe everyone has a path to recovery and it just takes time. Please don't lose hope and stick with whatever plan you have at the moment.
Thanks for those words of advice Moonsher. As mentioned a few times in this thread stress seems to be the dominant factor in the triggering and management of BP. In the last few months I've focused on keeping things calm and simple and it's enabled the return of some quality of life but the last few days have gone a bit belly up. So I took your advice and took half the day off work to go and wind down.

I still don't feel right but but it's important to share that protecting yourself (especially when you feel symptoms creeping in) should be priority no. 1, and we each should have the courage to make the best decisions for ourselves.


I'd rather not lose another job. I know I can handle it I just get a little spazzy sometimes.

What ways do you guys cope when you feel stressed?
Same! I've taken to going walking and bird watching but generally any time spend around or watching videos of animals is a great way to put your mind in a happier state. Also helping others with their problems or even just listening. But to do this you must be able to not add the weight of someone else's issues to your own.
 
Wishbone

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Regarding lowering stress: a few years ago when conducting my studies I was on the area of reducing stress in the dog kennel environment. If anyone has been near one it's a frantic and stressful place to say the least. One of the things that helps to reduce stress in dogs is music that runs at a certain beats-per-minute rate that impacts upon the heart rate, and in turn, stress. The same goes for us. It's essentially creating a rythym for your body. Think of times when you've been stressed and you'll probably think of yourself running around, busy busy busy, get this done, that done, the next thing done etc. There is no peace there only a greater and greater demand upon your body. So anything that settles you will work, but music with a specific BPM will help to put you there.
 
G

Ginger Kitten

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thank you! I am reading a book with a co-author neuroscientist. He is explaining how stress changes our brains.
I know that for myself I do need to limit stress as much as I can.
That's interesting Tiltawhirl, what's the book called please? Might help me and others... KR, Ginger.
 
T

tiltawhirl3

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The title is What Happened to You. I am not far into it yet.
 
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