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Living with bipolar disorder can feel like a rollercoaster ride. The extreme ups and downs of the disease can disrupt the lives of the patient and those around them. To make the disease more manageable, it’s important for the patient and caregivers to know what may trigger episodes of mania and depression.

When one family member has bipolar disorder, it’s as if the whole family has the illness. Primary caregivers may need to help with medications, talk to doctors, and keep a predictable, low-stress household routine. It’s also essential for caregivers to pick up on the sometimes subtle signs that their loved one is slipping into mania or depression.

Bipolar Disorder: Mania and Depression

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a serious mental illness that causes marked shifts in mood, energy and activity levels, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The extreme “high” is called mania. People in a manic phase are usually full of energy, overly excited, and even irritable or jumpy. During an episode of mania, the patient may feel invincible, take risks, engage in impulsive sex, go on huge spending sprees, or even have hallucinations. What’s worse, the bipolar person may not recognize they are manic because they feel so good.

At the other end of the spectrum is depression, which can spiral into talk of, or even attempts at, suicide. Always take talk of suicide seriously. If your loved one threatens to kill himself, call a health care professional or 911 immediately.

Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, it is controllable. Usually patients are treated with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle management. Many people go months or even years between mood episodes and report that they feel good in the meantime.

Bipolar Disorder: Tracking Triggers

Life events, anxiety, and even physical changes can cause a mood swing. What triggers an episode of mania or depression varies from person to person. Here are some typical physical triggers, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Stopping your medicine
  • Beginning antidepressant medication (this can cause a switch to mania)
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function, a possible side effect of lithium medication, often used to treat bipolar illness)

Emotional stress and big or small life changes can also cause mania or depression. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance gives these examples:

  • Major life change like moving or starting a new job
  • Arguing with a friend or loved one
  • Financial problems

Louisa Sylvia, PhD, a psychologist at the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston says, “Changes in daily routines, such as staying up late studying or flying to another time zone, can cause a mood swing.”

Sylvia explains that bipolar disorder interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm, the 24-hour rhythms, such as the sleep-wake cycle. As a result, bipolar patients are likely to have unregulated daily routines, such as meal and bed times. For instance, they may wake up in the middle of the night or sleep late. They may not eat anything until the afternoon. So, Sylvia says, it’s imperative for the bipolar person, and the rest of the family, to maintain a regular routine to avoid mania or depression.

Since regular sleep is vital to keeping bipolar episodes in check, keep an eye on sleep patterns. Changes and disruptions in sleep are often the first indicator of illness, according to NAMI. Sleep is usually disturbed very early in an episode of mania or depression. If the mood swing is caught early, there’s a better chance it can be stabilized, possibly by adjusting medications.

Bipolar Disorder: Charting Your Moods

Mood charts provide a visual snapshot of changes in mood over the course of a month. Every day, the patient jots down medication, mood level, and significant life events. The patient, family, and doctors may be able to see emerging patterns and pinpoint triggers more accurately. Sylvia says mood charts are an “excellent resource for patients to monitor and be more aware of moods.”


Comments on: "Recognizing Bipolar Disorder Triggers" (1)

  1. Reblogged this on Journey For Control and commented:
    This is a decent article about bi polar triggers. I have always cast aside the idea of being bipolar because I never, ever have the highs, or mania, associated with bipolar. As I mature however, since my depression, (which I once thought was unipolar and now I am not so certain) is so very low, I wonder if its possible to have lower periods of manic episodes, for example, is it possible that my mania, is actually more like an average person’s “normal” ? I have always thought I was on a cycle of deep depression and less depression, never really feeling level and certainly never high on life, like I have associated with mania.
    However, sometimes, I think about some of my bad habits. I have a history of some pretty reckless sexual behavior and I have been known to go on some pretty extreme shopping sprees. Does this constitute my mania? Also, I have some pretty OCD behavior, but only at times. For example, if I start cleaning, then I am not happy until it is all clean. (Keeping in mind that I do not clean very often) But, I am talking, I will stay up 48 hours to ensure every last piece of everything is in its proper place. Surface cleaning is only acceptable when someone is enroute to the house, but deep cleaning is the only kind of cleaning I know how to do. If I am going to spend time cleaning in the kitchen, then I clean out every cabinet and nook and cranny before I go to sleep. Same with moving, I cannot sleep until every box is opened and every item finds a home. (Now I might lay down and actually close my eyes to sleep, but it is not a restful sleep and I do not sleep for long, until it is all done….
    Another, but very different example, is when I find a new hobby. I completely immerse myself in it. I have to have every piece of equipment, and lots and lots of books to read about the topic. It doesn’t matter what the hobby… when I took up photography, I had to read and read and read and buy the best camera. When I was crocheting, actually, I have been crocheting since I was 16, but everytime I get back into it, I have to have new books, new recipes for projects and new yarn. I have an entire Scrapbook room in my house and a craps table in my living room….
    I will save you the details of my sexual exploits, but suffice it to say that I am glad to be healthy. But seriously, some of these exploits were as recent as a year ago. I liked to think of my self as the sexually enlightened woman, but really some of what have done is downright unsafe! Honestly, when I look at these times I can say that I felt good, like I was in the upswing of my depression… so, is this a possible sign that I am bi-polar? Could it be that I am on the wrong meds?
    Does impulsive and obsessive behavior swing my diagnosis the other way? I do not know, I sure am hoping that my journey to heal my depression will take care of the problem, whatever the text book says…
    But, just to emphasize my point, I have a ton of books on health and depression crowding the other side of my bed right now….. is this idea to get healthy just my latest fad? Will it end up another unfinished project stuffed in a corner some where? I sure hope I can stick with this, make it a life change and not my latest interest, because my life my very well depend on it.

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