Making It Through Mania
Counselor Eric Patterson and bipolar warrior Sharon Davis discuss ways to get through manic episodes.
Counselor Eric’s Advice
People who do not have a solid understanding of bipolar disorder might see a bipolar manic episode in a distorted way. They may believe a manic episode is a welcomed reprieve from the low mood, hopelessness and guilt associated with depressive episodes. After all, manic episodes are marked by:
- An elevated mood
- Increased self-esteem
- Less need for sleep
- Being more talkative and social
- Increase in goal-directed behavior, meaning someone will work on a task until completion
Having a manic episode every month or so would be a great way to feel better and get more accomplished around the house, right?
Wrong. To the outsider, a manic episode sounds like the basis for a comedy movie, but to someone who knows the devastating impact, a manic episode is no laughing matter.
This is because the above symptoms are only part of the mania story. Other, more problematic symptoms include:
- Distractibility with more time spent on low-priority tasks
- Increased irritability
- Feeling agitated
- Increased involvement in dangerous tasks
The last item on the list is the most notable. When people are experiencing a period of mania, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior.
- Financial risk: This includes spending large amounts of money allocated for other expenses like rent, and bills, as well as incurring large amounts of credit card or other debts during the spending sprees.
- Physical health risk: Engaging in risky behaviors that put themselves or others in danger physically is a real concern. Often in mania, people will overestimate their abilities leading to some unwanted consequences.
- Sexual health risk: People in a manic episode are more likely to seek out sex and may do so with people they do not know well. This, paired with the decreased safe sex practices, can lead to the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
- Mental health risk: The above will negatively impact mental health indirectly by increasing long-term stress, but mania will worsen mental health by missing appointments and failing to take medications as prescribed.
Focus on Prevention
With the risks associated with manic episodes being so great, action must be taken to limit the impact. The primary measures focus on prevention.
By stopping symptoms from developing, you are left in a much better position. To practice prevention, you can:
- Maintain your medication. Medications only work when you take them as prescribed, so be sure to let your prescriber know how effective your medications are and what you like and don’t like about them.
- Stay consistent with therapy. Missed appointments are missed opportunities for you and your therapist to better understand your symptoms. Let your therapist know how therapy helps, as well as how it can be more beneficial in the future.
- Know your triggers. For some people, the triggers of their manic episodes are clear; it could be a sleeping change, a seasonal change or another stressor. By identifying your triggers, you can refocus your preventative measures when the time is right.
- Reduce stress. Shifting moods can be brought about by many changes, including increased stress. Spend more time actively working to shrink your stress through relaxation, spending time with friends, exercising, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep.
Focus on Reduction
Unfortunately, despite your best efforts you will never be able to prevent all manic episodes. When they come, choosing appropriate actions and reactions will be vital.
Build a Team
When a period of mania arrives, the symptoms will be largely beyond your control. You cannot make yourself stop being manic, especially since some of the symptoms will feel desirable.
Because of this, you will be well-served to build a team of supports around you. Friends, family, coworkers and mental health professionals will be ideal choices for the team.
Have a Game Plan
Now that you have a team, you need a game plan. What are your goals and how will your team help you achieve these?
Planning really needs to be preventative. By establishing a plan of attack based on your needs and wants, you allow your team to know what to do when the time comes.
Do you want your friends to lock your in your room or engage you in healthy coping skills? Should they encourage continued medication use and attendance in therapy or simply distract you from your symptoms?
The plan should focus on increasing the strategies that worked well last time and avoiding the ones that did not work well.
Being still and moving slowly may seem very difficult, but it is a task worth working on. Everything happens more quickly during a manic episode, so working to be still, stable and calm can help bring down the overall speed of your episode.