My best workouts have been when I’m either on the verge of becoming hypomanic or when I am ticked off. My usual 10-minute mile goes down to an eight. I start passing people along my route, at the Naval Academy, feeling like Lynda Carter in her Wonder Woman getup. And my swim interval is consistent with the people who swam across the Chesapeake Bay in under two hours. The truth is I have averted many hypomanic episodes by working out until I collapse or at least become tired, which can take a few hours. Two years ago, the only way I was able to sleep was by swimming more than 300 laps a day. There are people for whom vigorous exercise triggers mania, but most experts report on the benefits of exercise for bipolar disorder.
7. Watch Your Sweets
There is a reason why ice cream, Swedish Fish, and animal crackers are comfort food for the bipolar person. The rush of insulin generated by those foods will calm those carbohydrate-craving brain pathways for a bit, until a crash in blood sugar has the person binging again on sweets. It’s a vicious cycle, one that can keep a bipolar person cycling indefinitely.
I will tell you a true story about sugar and bipolar. About 16 years ago, before I knew I was allergic to sugar and that a high-carb diet was the worst thing I could do for my mental health, I would sometimes drink two bottles of Arizona Iced Tea and eat two or three chocolate-chip oatmeal bars for lunch. One day, there was a Horizon milk truck in front of our house with a large cow on the side. I started mooing at the cow. My new husband, behind me, was truly frightened by this and told me to lay off the Arizona Iced Teas and granola bars for awhile. I haven’t mooed at a truck since.
8. Be Careful With the Opposite Sex
I am all for good, healthy friendships between men and women. If you’re not bipolar. Consider me a prude, but I know how difficult it can be to be consistent with good boundaries if you are even the tiniest bit hypomanic. You sincerely didn’t mean for something you sent in an email to sound flirtatious — you were just being playful, like you are with your girlfriends. However, when you do get a reaction from a person of the opposite sex, something in the least bit flattering, that communication can ignite a rush that sends a signal throughout your entire body that you want more of the feel-good hormone it just experienced — dopamine, essentially.
It’s even riskier if you have a history of substance abuse and bipolar because your body will compromise any moral agreements you have signed off on prior to that email in order to get that damn rush again. If you’re not careful, this dangerous game will trigger a full blown manic episode. I have had the best intentions with 85-year-old men, and still, somehow, found myself in trouble. So for the time being, I’m sticking to female friendships.
9. Use a Shopping List
One of the most common manic behaviors is uncontrollable spending or shopping. Therefore, it is sometimes helpful for persons with bipolar disorder to make out a list beforehand of the items you absolutely need to buy — be it a grocery list, a Home Depot run, or a mission to get a your daughter’s friend a birthday gift. That way you won’t end up with 20 different kinds of paint swatches for the kitchen and living room you’ve decided to paint while you were at the store.
10. Allow Time to Decompress
This one is probably the second most important for me to prevent mania. I would say meditate, but that word produces too much expectation and pressure for me right now. Decompressing means after you finish something like a blog post or after you’ve forced yourself to be social for a few hours at a party that you didn’t want to attend, you allow yourselves 15 to 30 minutes to look at the ceiling fan in your bedroom and think about just that: the ceiling fan.
The case has been made that persons with bipolar disorder are creative and therefore need more chill time than the average person. Our brains are operating at a faster pace and more intensely than our non-bipolar friends for the periods of time where we must appear normal. So it is absolutely imperative that we allow some time where nothing is required — where we can drool, or lie in the grass, or doodle, or collapse in front of the front door. Although it seems as though these hours are unproductive, this activity will rebuild the gray matter of our brains and safeguard us from a manic episode.
Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.