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7 Ways to Minimize Symptoms


The following is an Editorial Resource from YourTotalHealth.

Reviewed by:  Steven A. King, M.D.

bipolar The two most important strategies for living successfully with bipolar disorder are working with a therapist and finding the right medication regimen. But a healthy lifestyle is essential to making these strategies work. When you have bipolar disorder, it’s easy to feel like nothing is in your control, but you can control your own health habits. “Like diabetes, bipolar disorder can be well-managed and well-controlled,” says Ken Duckworth, M.D., Medical Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “But, you have to treat this condition with respect. If you ignore it or don’t attend to it, the consequences can be severe, even fatal. “ Here, seven things that can help minimize symptoms: 

  1. Get regular aerobic exercise. Work out in the morning, if possible, so that the exercise doesn’t interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. 

  2. Be mindful of your sleeping habits. Try to go to sleep and get out of bed at approximately the same time each day. Interruptions in sleep-wake cycles can sometimes set off manic or depressive episodes. 

  3. Watch out for jet lag. “Simple jet lag can cause serious problems in people with bipolar disorder,” says Dr. Duckworth. “East-west travel is more disruptive to your circadian rhythms than north-south travel.“ Staying indoors sometimes worsens jet lag. Before changing your sleep schedule, talk to your doctor. You may want to begin going to bed and waking up a little earlier several days before you travel eastward, and going to bed and getting up slightly later before you travel westward. Avoid caffeine and heavy meals if possible.

  4. Practice stress reduction. Try yoga, deep breathing, listening to music— whatever calms you down. There’s some evidence that symptoms of bipolar disorder can worsen during times of stress. Animal studies have shown that repeated stress can cause brain cell changes that mimic what happens in humans who have bipolar disease. 

  5. Catch your symptoms early. For some people, waking up three hours earlier than usual might be a first sign of the onset of mania. For others, it might take someone you love telling you that you’re starting to look sad again to help you realize when you’re on the edge of a depressive episode. Keeping a chart of your symptoms for six months to a year can help you identify triggers and patterns. Perhaps you’re more prone to depression every month in the week before your period, or you tend to be more prone to mania during the summer when you’re more exposed to sunlight. Take note. 

  6. Educate your family. Once you and your therapist have identified your triggers, share that information with your loved ones so they can help you recognize your symptoms early. “Psychoeducation for the family is important,” says Dr. Duckworth. “Family members need to understand that bipolar disorder is a biological process; it is nobody’s fault. Their loved one isn’t acting this way in response to something they’ve done.” 

  7. Tell someone you love how you’re feeling, especially if you’re having mood swings or suicidal thoughts. “ Suicidal tendencies and desperation are signs of an undertreated condition,” says Dr. Duckworth. “Never assess your life on a bad day. That’s a rule of thumb in life, and a very good rule of thumb if you have a mood disorder. If you’re suicidal in the context of overt depression or mania, the answer is to call your doctor—or alert family members to call—and explore your treatment options.”

What's Next: Know Your Family History

 

Review Date: May 01, 2009

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Ask Your Doctor

bipolar disorderBefore you go to your doctor’s office, be prepared to ask these questions, according to your situation:

 

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