Bipolar disorder is a condition characterized by extremes, and it can be hard to understand when you’re on the outside looking in.
But those who struggle with it know how overwhelming it can be.
Here’s what you need to know about BD: It is treatable, and with the right tools, anyone can learn to effectively manage it.
Bipolar Disorder at a Glance
There is nothing wrong with feeling the peaks and valleys of life. Highs and lows are part of the journey of being human.
But bipolar disorder is more than these feelings. If you have bipolar, you don’t just experience your moods, you become encompassed in them.
According to the NIH:
“Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
These moods alternate between elated and energized (manic periods) and despondent and sad (depressive periods). These mood shifts are often severe enough to impact work, school, and social activities.
Manic and depressive mood cycles can last for weeks, and one can be as problematic as the other.
The Three Types of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is categorized into three types according to the DSM-V
Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic
Bipolar I is characterized by severe episodes of mania followed shortly by depressive episodes. A manic episode occurs for at least seven days and may require hospitalization in some cases.
People in the manic stages of bipolar disorder are known to engage in risky behaviors that put their health, finances, and relationships in jeopardy.
Here are some qualities of a person in a manic state:
Boosted self-esteem and sense of grandiosity.
Racing thoughts and new idea flooding.
May ignore sleep or not prioritize sleep.
Increased engagement in risky behaviors (spending sprees, sexual risks, thoughtless investments).
Highly goal-oriented (May strive recklessly toward a goal in school, work, or relationships).
Bipolar II is characterized by depressive episodes that alternate with less severe manic periods (hypomania).
Depressive episodes look like…
Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or expressing feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Loss of interest in once-loved activities.
Weight fluctuations (either gaining or losing weight).
Too much or too little sleep.
Loss of energy and frequent fatigue.
Symptoms of a hypomanic episode include…
Seemingly random boosts in mood.
Being more talkative than usual.
“Top of the world” feelings that appear randomly.
Having increased energy and drive.
Whether it’s mania or hypomania, if the symptoms are enough to impact an individual’s life in a negative way, they would likely receive a bipolar diagnosis.
Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder that still displays shifts in mood that are strong enough to affect an individual’s life. Here are some other key factors…
Symptoms cannot be explained by other possible mental conditions.
Symptoms cause distress in an individual’s work, home, or social life.
No clear sign that the symptoms are due to drugs or alcohol.
Symptoms don’t seem to be due to normal life circumstances (bad days, small wins, etc.)
Bipolar Disorder Treatments
Medication is the standard treatment for Bipolar disorder, but it has been shown that the most effective treatment for bipolar symptoms is psychotherapy combined with medication.
Seeing as bipolar disorder is highly affected by an individual’s stress levels and life circumstances, medication alone is not considered adequate treatment.
Here are the best examples of psychotherapy treatments:
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the relationships between thoughts and behaviors, teaching an individual to challenge the accuracy and the validity of beliefs that trouble them. They learn to..
Identify negative thinking patterns and replace them with more adaptive ones.
Become aware of what they are feeling so they can develop a higher degree of self-control when depressed or manic. This is typically done through daily mood monitoring.
DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY
DBT is a highly effective form of skills-based learning aimed at helping individuals become aware of and manage their emotions if they ineffectively cope with intense emotions.
In DBT, individuals learn how to relate to themselves, their feelings, and others in more effective ways so they can live more fulfilling and meaningful lives.
DBT is practical and skill-based, with its main focus being to provide individuals with tools to manage any challenging emotions they could be experiencing.
Learning about Bipolar disorder, its early warning signs, and how to make the condition more manageable play a large role in helping bipolar individuals live healthy, fulfilling lives.
Knowledge alone makes a big difference in a person’s ability to manage their symptoms.
FAMILY FOCUSED THERAPY (FFT)
This therapy approach emphasizes the importance of improving communication and relationships within the family to enhance the individual’s overall well-being and stability.
The therapy sessions involve both the person with bipolar disorder and their family members, where they work together to identify and address any issues that may contribute to mood swings and instability.
Family-focused therapy also provides education and support for family members on how to effectively cope with the challenges of bipolar disorder and how to provide care for their loved ones. By improving family dynamics and support, family-focused therapy can help individuals with bipolar disorder achieve more stable and fulfilling lives.
INTERPERSONAL AND SOCIAL RHYTHM THERAPY
In this form of therapy, bipolar individuals make records of their sleep/wake cycles, daily habits, and activities. They make note of how these things affect their mood, and talk with their therapist about areas that might trouble them.
Relationships are discussed as well. Therapists will coach patients through relationship conflicts and teach them how to handle similar problems in the future.
GENERAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Healthy lifestyle changes are enormously helpful for bipolar individuals to manage their symptoms and keep their minds, relationships, and work in balance.
These changes include…
Prioritizing sleep and rest.
Eating a healthy diet.
Getting regular exercise.
Avoiding drugs and alcohol.
Managing stress and having people to talk to.
Healing From Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a challenging condition, and getting a diagnosis for yourself or someone you know could be the best course of action if you’re having suspicions.
Healing from bipolar disorder involves increasing your self-understanding, self-compassion, and self-awareness. You don’t have to be ruled by your moods.
The objective is not to banish your strong emotions, but to master them. In that sense, mastery over bipolar disorder is mastery over yourself.