Stress Management 101
One of the most important aspects of living a healthy Bipolar lifestyle is managing stress. Stress will come in all forms. Whether it’s your job, your relationships, money, your disease or the world around you – stress happens. And just when you’ve got it all under control and are stress free, the next day more happens. Therefore it’s not just about reducing stress it’s about managing it on a daily, hourly, and even minute-to-minute basis.
Symptoms you are not managing stress effectively:
- Emotional outbursts
- Aggressive language
- Obesity from cortisol/insulin resistance
- Emotional eating
- Drug abuse
- Alcohol abuse
- Emotionally abusive to others
- Continuous physical pain, random skin disruptions and unexplained malaise, sleep disturbance
- Depression and triggered mania
One or more of the symptoms above indicate that you need to gain some much needed stress relief and it is imperative that you recognize how essential it is to relieve this stress daily. In America, women have been conditioned to believe that doing things for themselves is wrong. That taking time to self-care is somehow selfish and makes you a bad person. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. How can an overly stressed, emotionally wrought, physically exhausted person be of any use to anyone? If you are struggling with justifying to yourself that you are allowed and actually obligated to self-care, at the very least you should tell yourself the truth — without self care you are presenting the worst version of yourself to the world. If you feel you want to take care of the people you love, know that they will appreciate a happy stress-free you rather than a ragged, mean, ugly version of you. But more than this realize that self-care is how best to manage your disease so that you feel happy and stable all the time (the Bipolar dream).
What exactly is self-care? Rituals and activities that promote your health and happiness! I’ll be discussing my 4 rituals and minute-to-minute suggestions for you if you don’t know where to start. Humans are very into routine and ritual and have been for thousands of years. We are hardwired to use processes repeatedly, whether it was the ritual of brushing your teeth taught to you before you could fully talk, or a religious right you learned later we derive satisfaction from being able to follow those processes to completion. All rituals serve a purpose for our lives, and by particupating in them we can actively work towards obtaining that purpose.
Taking your medications. The number one problem with Bipolar patients, according to doctors and therapists is that Bipolar patients notoriously don’t take their medication consistently or they stop altogether when they feel “better”. It’s another thing we are hard wired to do. We get used to feeling a certain way (stable) and we think, “I’m cured, I don’t need this pill anymore. It’s too expensive anyway.” or something else to justify stopping the medication. It’s the #1 problem because it always leads to a relapse in our disease. And as a survivor of Bipolar disorder, you know that relapses have immediate and lasting consequences that range from bad to devastating. You owe it to yourself, your loved ones, the world at large to be stable and happy. Medication is a cornerstone of keeping yourself stable. It is difficult and sometimes a lengthy ordeal to find the correct medication or combination of medications but once you get there, life changes for the better and you get more motivated to stay the course.
Have fun with this ritual! Set it to happen at a time of the day where you can set an alarm and get it taken care of consistently. If you need to take the medication with food, make it a part of your meal or dessert and justify that dessert with the fact that you must take your medication with food. Get yourself a fancy pillbox or vitamin organizer. If you are including marijuana as a part of your medication plan, get yourself the very best tools for that purpose as an indulgence. Caution, some people experience mania from marijuana so be careful with this. A note about alcohol – moderation is key both from a medical perspective and from an emotional health perspective. No more than two drinks a day, and less if you are struggling with your health or emotions. Illegal drugs are not the best option for Bipolar disorder or stress management in general as they have addictive components that end up causing more stress or bodily harm than any mental or emotional benefit.
Active relaxation. This is an activity which you find relaxing, where you are actively engaged in something. Different people like different things so this kind of relaxing could be a sport, a nature hike, cooking, sewing, painting, scrapbooking, cleaning, hanging out with friends, singing in church, reading for pleasure or studying for intellectual or spiritual enlightenment, Yoga or any kind of activity where you are actively participating and feeling good doing it. People rely on their smart phone for active relaxation, and social media and games are useful but, because our phones are also actively advertising and pushing an agenda to us, time on these devices and social medias should be limited and other forms of active relaxation employed in addition to that. In today’s society we feel like doing activities that actively relax and make us happy are somehow “bad” to spend time on. Like we are cheating or doing more than we deserve. This is a function of our disease, society’s double standards, and inherent fear. When you are at work, taking just fifteen minutes and walking around campus in the fresh air and sunshine is an active relaxation technique that can totally reboot your attitude and physical state of being. In the same way, taking a five minute break to talk to someone in the break room can adjust your perspective, attitude and physical state enough to lower stress (avoid negative topics and gossip or there will be additional stress). Avoid using the news, social media and shopping as active relaxation if you would like to avoid emotional and potentially sress-inducing triggers common for Bipolar women.
Passive relaxation. Some people find it extremely difficult to completely relax. But, as in the Dead Man’s pose for Yoga, total relaxation is extremely important. It allows you to get beyond the physical and immediate demands of life and get into a state where your mind is free to be at peace. Don’t know what that means? You’re not alone – it is very difficult to find inner peace in America today! I personally am trying to get into meditation every day but it’s rough. This is way more difficult than it sounds! We are so plugged in and entertained at all times that going into a silent space is not just uncomfortable, it’s downright scary. Not to mention, as a bipolar survivor it’s sometimes scary to be with your own thoughts! That’s why I recommend guided meditations. They lead you and don’t let your mind wander too far off the beaten path. More ideas: massage, prayer, being still in nature, going to hot springs to soak, laying in a hammock in the summer, laying on the beach listening to the waves, sitting on the porch watching the world go by. This is the hardest ritual. It sounds easy but it is not. If you seriously don’t know how to passively relax outside of sleeping, try this: dedicate five minutes of your day to sit still and breath. Don’t think about stuff, just take extreme notice of your breathing for a fully timed five minutes. When you’ve wandered, come back to your breath. Over time, extend the breathing or find spots in your day for stillness and silence, and your breathing in it.
Extended play. This one is tough to swallow in today’s society too. We’re allowed to play as children, but over time it’s clear that as adults we are expected to work, not play. Yet, play is essential to the human spirit, and without it, stress hormones build up. Not to mention, without play in your life it becomes highly stressful and depressing emotionally. This is to be avoided as our disease already pushes the limits of our mental and emotional balance. When was the last time you took a vacation? No, I’m not talking about taking the kids to Disney World, unless that gives you extreme pleasure. I’m talking about, when was the last time you went somewhere YOU wanted to go and did ALL the things YOU wanted to do while you were there? This should be a requirement. In fact, it IS a requirement in nearly all the countries of the world EXCEPT the United States. I’m dead serious look up paid leave in other countries on Google. You deserve time off. Corporations generally give Americans two weeks off because they know that humans require time off. But two weeks is the MINIMUM you should be taking to go somewhere and enjoy the hell out of your time there. Why not a staycation? Staycations are ok, but if you really want the benefit of total stress reduction, you will physically leave your house for an extended amount of time to be in a location of your pleasure. Don’t have enough time off saved up? Play while you’re waiting on that vacation. Go out with friends, throw a party, do some sports, play some video games or cards and board games with the kids even better yet. Watch that movie that makes you laugh with your favorite person. Play with your kids, without thinking about what else you have to do.
Become actively engaged in your awareness of yourself. Begin to notice when your temper flares or you are feeling pressure or irritation. Your physical signs and emotional signals start off within you, try to become aware of them so you can engage in stress-reducing techniques before they escalate. When you feel the stirrings of these triggers, begin deep breathing. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system which is primarily involved in stress management. Dramatically slow down your verbal responses immediately. It is better to say, “I need to think about this” or “I need a minute, I’ll get back to you” or “excuse me” and leave than to fly off the handle when you feel stress. Things to calm yourself: Take deep breaths where you count in for four, count out for five and do this until you feel under control. Go for a brisk ten minute walk, or even climb a one minute flight of stairs. Get enough sleep. Bipolars generally need more sleep than non-Bipolars, did you know? Aim for 8-10 hours a night of solid sleep to be emotionally at your best and much better equipped to handle stress triggers. Stay hydrated and nourished. Eating a Bipolar-friendly diet makes a world of difference in your ability to handle stress and your general sense of well-being. Take a few minutes to stretch your body or get up and walk around the floor a little to ease tension. Set boundaries with people. People will walk over you and your feelings only as much as you let them. Learn that saying the word “No” or “Sorry, I can’t” or “No, I won’t be able to, sorry” is not going to make people hate you or stop working with you or stop being your loved one. In fact, people respect people who know and maintain their boundaries. Don’t take on too much. Strive to be your best, but determine what your best is yourself not by the measure of someone else. And when you determine what is your best, be kind to yourself. We put the most pressure on ourselves, above our family and our bosses. Think of yourself as your own small child – treat yourself with love, care, attention and above all forgiveness!