Bipolar disorder not only affects your mood. It also affects your thinking, energy and behavior. Also known as manic-depression, the highs during this mental illness may cause you to impulsively quit a job, start or end relationships you would normally not begin or end, spend lots of money or go into debt and sleep for just a few hours a night and yet still be full of energy.
During depressive episodes you may not want to get out of bed. You may also feel hopeless if you are out of job or into deep financial crisis. During extreme cycles of depression, sufferers may even contemplate committing suicide.
The episodes of either depression, mania or both can sometimes last for days, weeks or even months. The symptoms are more than just a temporary good or bad mood. The intense changes in mood can make it difficult for you to function.
For a list of frequently asked questions about bipolar disorder and the answers, see here.
Bipolar Disorder Causes
Scientists have determined that there are many factors attributed as causes of bipolar disorder. They know that there is a genetic component to some cases of bipolar disorder. It can run in the family, meaning if you have someone in your family who has bipolar disorder or other mental illness like depression, then you have a greater risk for developing bipolar disorder.
Typically, the first episode of mania or depression will occur from the teen years to early adulthood. It can occur earlier or later but generally if you are past your fiftieth year of age you are not likely to develop this illness. The symptoms can range from slight to severe; often when they are minimal the sufferer and family members will be confused by the changes. If the disorder is diagnosed correctly, then treatment and support can help patients recover and lead a full and happy life.
Scientists have also determined that bipolar disorder can be caused by problems with certain neurotransmitters or chemical messengers which work in a particular area of the brain. Norepinephrine and serotonin have been identified as possibilities and scientists believe there are several more. This chemical problem may stay dormant in the body and then be activated by some physical or psychological stress or may activate on its own. Doctors are sometimes able to figure out the specific stressor they believe may have activated this dormant condition in an individual, and sometimes they don’t know what causes the activation.
It is possible that when there aren’t any genetic indicators of bipolar disorder, hormonal issues or lifestyle choices which include drug or alcohol abuse are factors that might trigger bipolar episodes. Many doctors don’t believe that substance abuse on its own can cause bipolar disorder. However, they do believe it can trigger the dormant condition and make the disease harder to treat.
Understanding Bipolar Triggers
If you or someone you love has bipolar disorder there are choices that you can make or help them make that can have a great impact on your moods and the illness. One of the things scientists are trying to understand is the things that can trigger not only bipolar disorder but episodes within the disorder.
External environmental and psychological triggers are external factors that can activate manic or depressive episodes or make a current episode worse. Doctors can’t always point to an obvious trigger for a bipolar disorder episode but they do know some of them. Here is an example of triggers that you can avoid:
- Stress – drastic or sudden changes, they can be good or bad changes.
- Substance Abuse – Cocaine, ecstasy, or amphetamines have been found to trigger a manic episode. Alcohol or tranquilizers have been found to activate depression. The substances may not cause bipolar disease, but they can make the symptoms worse.
- Medication – Some prescription medications, specifically antidepressant drugs, can trigger mania. Scientists also warn against over-the-counter cold medicine, caffeine, appetite suppressants, corticosteroids, and thyroid medication, as it may trigger manic-like symptoms.
- Change in Seasons – Manic episodes are more common in the summer, while depressive episodes occur most often in the fall, winter, and spring.
- Sleep Deprivation – Skipping just a few hours of sleep can trigger a manic episode.
Self-Help Options for Bipolar Disorder
There are many ways that you can help yourself control, if not bipolar disorder in its entirety, at least the triggers that can cause episodes. Learn to control these triggers by doing the following:
- Education about bipolar disorder – the more you know, the better off you will be in controlling the disease. Scientists have found that some of those with bipolar disorder manifest physical changes in the brain on imaging studies. They have determined that triggers may also include neurotransmitter imbalances, a problem with the thyroid, a disturbance in circadian rhythm and for other reasons.
- Learn to control stress – if you can learn to relax and control stress it will help keep your life in balance. Try exercise, yoga, and meditation techniques like deep breathing. High levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, have been found in those with bipolar disease and may relate to causing or triggering bipolar episodes.
- Find support – let your family know what is going on and ask for encouragement and understanding. You might also look for a support group whether it is in person or online. Make sure you are also talking to a professional psychologist or psychiatrist, as well.
- Lifestyle choices – choose to eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, and keep a regular sleep schedule. Avoid drugs and alcohol. The better you feel physically, the more control you will have mentally.
- Track your moods – keep a diary of what you do, along with notations on how you are feeling mentally. Learn to identify signs that you are becoming depressed or manic. Keep track of your symptoms and watch for signs that your moods are swinging out of control so you can work on controlling the episode before it starts.