It’s essential that individuals who think they might have a mood disorder seek a professional evaluation. It’s also key for loved ones to understand that a person with cyclothymia can’t undo their disorder or control their mood shifts.
“Cyclothymia is driven by biological changes in the nervous system,” Preston said. However, fortunately, treatment is tremendously helpful in minimizing symptoms and leading a healthy, fulfilling life.
Coping with Cyclothymia
If you’re diagnosed with cyclothymia, learn as much as you can about the disorder. As Van Dijk said, “in order to deal with something effectively, you need to know what it is you’re dealing with.”
Talk with a mental health professional “about the symptoms, causes, triggers and treatment options,” she said. Find out “what [you] can expect and how to manage [your] symptoms more effectively,” she said.
Many experts, Preston said, advise against treating cyclothymia with medication. For one, mood stabilizers have troublesome side effects. Second, antidepressants are well-known for worsening cyclothymia in the long run, he said. (They can trigger hypomania.)
Preston stressed the importance of two major lifestyle issues in treating cyclothymia or any kind of bipolar disorder. One is maintaining healthy sleep patterns, because poor sleep activates mood episodes, he said. Avoiding caffeine after noon can dramatically improve your sleep. (You can download this helpful caffeine worksheet from Preston’s website.) If you’re feeling really tired, go for a 10-minute walk, which Preston said offers virtually the same amount of energy as a caffeine-filled drink.
The second is avoiding drugs and alcohol. Alcohol abuse is common with cyclothymia, he said. When people are depressed, they reach for a few drinks for relief. However, alcohol exacerbates mood disorders and sabotages sleep. While you’ll probably fall asleep faster, you’ll disrupt your quality of sleep. (Alcohol – along with caffeine – doesn’t let you progress to the deep, restorative stage of sleep.)
Psychotherapy also is highly effective. Research has found that both cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) are helpful for treating bipolar disorders. Van Dijk and Stokl also noted that dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is valuable.
Interpersonal social rhythm therapy focuses on two goals: improving relationships and creating healthy routines. According to Preston, relationships can be a significant source of stress for people with cyclothymia and may contribute to their mood episodes. Social rhythm therapy is similar to couples or family therapy and helps individuals learn better communication skills and solve their problems, he said. It also helps loved ones better understand that cyclothymia is a neurochemical disorder – not the person’s fault – and how it functions.
Routine is key for stabilizing moods, and people with bipolar disorders are especially sensitive to change. Any changes made to their eating, sleeping or exercise routines can interfere with their circadian rhythms and trigger an episode, Preston said.
That’s why it’s so important that all three are done on a regular basis. For instance, experts suggest going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. While this might seem tough and tedious, Preston said that it can help tremendously with regulating mood.
All these psychotherapies also help individuals learn effective coping skills, Van Dijk said. For instance, an individual might learn assertiveness skills to help their relationships and healthy strategies to process and manage emotions and avoid turning to problematic behaviors like substance abuse, she said.