Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by severe shifts in mood. A person with bipolar disorder may experience episodes of mania in which they experience elevated mood, energy, and irritability, and episodes of depression, in which they experience excessive sadness. Manic episodes may last up to a week, and depression episodes may last for two weeks. These episodes can be highly disruptive, making it difficult for the person to carry out day-to-day tasks. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of bipolar disorder triggers.
What Triggers Bipolar Disorder?
There are several types of bipolar disorder, and some may produce more frequent episodes of mania than depression, while others may not produce mania at all. Both mania and hypomania also share similar symptoms, such as feeling unusually upbeat, euphoric, irritable, and energetic. Manic episodes may also produce symptoms like a decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, trouble concentrating, and poor judgment.
These shifts in mood can have a profound effect on a person’s life. Some episodes of depression and mania are even accompanied by loss of reality or psychosis, which is characterized by hallucinations and delusions. Suicidal thoughts are also more frequent during these episodes.
With that said, although these episodes aren’t always avoidable, understanding common bipolar disorder triggers can help people with this condition better understand and manage their symptoms. Below is a list of common triggers for bipolar depression to look out for if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with this disorder.
Changes In or Lack of Sleep
Most, if not all, people have had sleepless nights followed by exhausting mornings. If you’ve ever had a period where you struggled to get a good night’s rest, then you may understand the irritability and the mental and physical exhaustion that usually follows a restless night.
Those with bipolar disorder who are shift workers, work long hours, or are students short on sleep, are all at risk for recurring manic and/or depressive episodes. To avoid triggering bipolar episodes from lack of sleep, create a relaxing nighttime routine, avoid using your phone or watching tv in bed, and try going to bed earlier if you take a while to fall asleep.
Stress is one of the most common bipolar episode triggers. Unfortunately, stress isn’t avoidable, and while some form of stress can keep you motivated and working towards certain goals, too much stress can wear you down physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Everyone experiences stress, whether it’s at work, school, or home, and it’s important to identify the things that stress you out so you can put energy into organizing yourself in those areas, so you don’t burn yourself out. Great ways to manage stress and prevent stress-induced bipolar disorder symptoms include:
- Keeping a daily planner or agenda
- Creating a work schedule that includes several short breaks
- Determining a time of day where you stop working
- Being active every day for at least 30 minutes
- Journaling your thoughts and feelings (this is a great way to better understand how your thoughts and emotions fluctuate)
These are only a few suggestions, so find what works for you.
Bipolar onset triggers also include seasonal changes. Many people with bipolar disorder experience shifts in mood depending on the season. For instance, seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that commonly occurs during winter. People with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience depression during winter and mania or hypomania during spring or summer.
Interestingly, these shifts are linked to sunlight. Our circadian rhythm – the body’s internal response to changes in a day – is affected by the amount of sunlight we get. This response is managed by clock genes, and if some of these genes are abnormal, the risk for seasonal affective disorder is increased.
Relationship problems, such as trouble with your marriage or a tough breakup, are also common bipolar depression triggers. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to manage relationships with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder. Due to the shifting nature of bipolar disorder symptoms, it can be difficult for partners to stick together.
People with bipolar disorder who are struggling in their relationships can seek out family therapy or individual therapy to help them build healthy coping strategies for their symptoms. Family therapy is especially helpful in strengthening relationships between individuals and their loved ones through education and supportive techniques.
Drug or Alcohol Use
Bipolar disorder manic triggers and depressive episode causes also include drugs and alcohol. Abusing drugs and alcohol can trigger bipolar disorder symptoms as they impact chemical balance in the brain. Chemicals that play a role in mood and behavior like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are all impacted by alcohol and certain drugs, which can impact the individual’s mental health and possibly worsen bipolar disorder symptoms.
If you or a loved one has a co-occurring mental health disorder and addiction, our Massachusetts inpatient drug rehab offers individualized treatment services for both conditions. We teach clients how to navigate life with addiction and mental health disorders.
Caffeine is a natural central nervous system stimulant that’s present in various foods and drinks like coffee, soda, tea, and energy drinks. Although some caffeine can help keep you awake and alert, consuming too much caffeine can spike your anxiety and increase your chances of manic episodes.
Caffeine can also disrupt your sleep patterns and affect the way your body breaks down any medication you might be taking for your disorder. For these reasons, be sure to speak to your doctor about drinking caffeine and how it may affect your symptoms.
Childbirth, while a beautiful and miraculous thing, is also linked to mood disorders like bipolar depression. One 2016 review found that the risk for mood disorder episodes increased in women with bipolar disorder after giving birth. In one of the studies mentioned in the review, researchers found that nearly 50% of women with bipolar disorder experienced at least one mood episode during pregnancy or within one month after childbirth.1
It’s also worth noting that both men and women with bipolar disorder can be triggered by childbirth, as postpartum depression can also occur in men as well as women. Be sure to discuss all the possible challenges of childbirth if you have bipolar disorder and are planning on getting pregnant or are pregnant.
The Death of a Loved One
The death of a loved one is one of the most heartbreaking and stressful things anyone can go through. For someone with bipolar disorder, the emotional and mental challenges of these moments are heightened. Some people with bipolar disorder experience something called “funeral mania,” in which they go through a manic episode after attending a funeral of a loved one.
The bereavement period should include monitoring and heightened support for someone with bipolar disorder. If you have bipolar disorder and have recently lost a loved one, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Massachusetts treatment center for support.
Help for Bipolar Disorder
Although prevention of bipolar disorder symptoms may not be entirely possible, understanding bipolar disorder triggers may help you or your loved one better manage this disease. Moreover, professional care and treatment can assist those with bipolar disorder in developing healthy coping techniques for their symptoms.
Our facility offers residential mental health care for conditions like bipolar depression that offers individual and group therapy options to teach clients how to cope with their symptoms and live happy and fulfilling lives. To learn how we can help, call Clearbrook Treatment Center today at 570-536-9621.