Living with a mental health disorder can be difficult due to the challenging symptoms and societal stigma surrounding mental illness. Individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder may feel distressed by the idea of having to cope with the disruptive and debilitating symptoms that accompany the condition. Learning how to cope with bipolar disorder can help individuals manage their symptoms, navigate daily challenges, and live fuller, healthier lives.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is classified as a mood disorder because individuals with this disorder experience abnormal moods or volatile mood swings. Previously known as manic-depressive disorder or manic depression, bipolar disorder is typically characterized by the experience of intense “highs” and “lows,” known as manic and depressive episodes, respectively. This condition is both chronic and episodic, meaning it is a lifelong (but treatable) disorder that occurs at irregular intervals. Symptoms of bipolar disorder may present infrequently, but consistent treatment is necessary to manage the condition throughout an individual’s lifetime effectively.
The Types of Bipolar Disorder
Within the bipolar disorder diagnosis, there are three distinct types with their own unique characteristics. These include bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorders. Bipolar I entails full-blown manic episodes that either last longer than seven days or are so severe they require hospitalization. Those with bipolar I also experience depressive episodes, usually with a duration of at least two weeks. It is also possible for individuals with bipolar I to experience mood disturbances with mixed features, in which manic and depressive symptoms occur at the same time.
With Bipolar II, individuals experience depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes; hypomanic episodes are less severe than manic episodes but still entail a boost in energy, mood, or productivity that is unusual for the individual.
The third type of bipolar disorder is known as cyclothymic, referencing the nature of an individual’s hypomanic or depressive episodes. For individuals with cyclothymic disorder, a hypomanic or depressive episode may be relatively mild but last for extended periods, often years.
Common Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The most definitive symptom of bipolar disorder, regardless of the specific type, relates to mood instability or intensity. Individuals who experience extended periods of depression or elation or who notice dramatic, chaotic shifts in their moods over time may have this disorder. Knowing what to expect during manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes can also help individuals recognize the symptoms and adopt healthy coping skills.
During a manic episode, individuals with bipolar disorder tend to feel excessively energized or elated, and in some cases, individuals will feel irritable or anxious. While in a manic state, individuals may feel overly confident. They may behave in abnormal ways such as sleeping less, participating in pleasurable but risky activities, talking more than usual and easily getting distracted by external stimuli. Individuals who experience a hypomanic episode will have similar symptoms and behavior as those experiencing a manic episode. Hypomanic episodes are less intense and prolonged than manic episodes, but the increase in an individual’s energy levels and erratic behavior are generally noticeable.
During a depressive episode, individuals tend to have lower energy levels and less motivation to complete essential tasks. While in a depressive state, individuals with bipolar disorder may feel hopeless, restless, and even suicidal. A depressive episode can also cause memory and concentration issues.
How to Cope With Bipolar Disorder
When living with bipolar disorder, effective and healthy coping skills are essential. Improper coping skills can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s overall wellness and functionality. A 2016 study from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience suggests that ineffective coping skills may contribute to a higher degree of disability among individuals with bipolar disorder. According to this study, maladaptive coping skills such as denial, substance abuse, behavioral disengagement (or giving up), self-blame, and self-distraction could cause an individual’s symptoms to worsen.
In light of this, adopting healthy, productive coping skills can make an immense difference in an individual’s ability to live well with bipolar disorder. Positive coping skills can include positive reframing, planning, and emotional support seeking. Consulting a counselor can help individuals with bipolar disorder develop these skills. To cope with bipolar disorder, individuals should take care to monitor their moods and symptoms as best they can; doing so can help them identify patterns in their moods and potential triggers. Some individuals will benefit most from a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mood stabilizers; communicating their needs and concerns with a medical professional will be critical for identifying what treatment plan works best for them.
Living and coping with bipolar disorder can be challenging. Intense mood swings and prolonged emotional episodes may make you feel isolated and unstable, but you do not have to face this condition alone. Seeking help for mental health disorders like bipolar disorder can improve your coping skills to make managing the disorder more approachable. By challenging harmful coping mechanisms, adopting positive practices, and making an effort to monitor the patterns of your moods, you can cope with bipolar disorder more effectively. If you are struggling to cope with bipolar disorder, Sober Life is here to help. We offer mental health services to help you learn valuable skills and tools to manage your symptoms and live a full, happy life. If you or a loved one are living with bipolar disorder, reaching out for guidance and support can make a difference in your quality of life. Call Sober Life at (619) 542-9542 to learn more about our mental health services.