If your doctor has diagnosed you with bipolar disorder, you know what a manic episode feels like. To be diagnosed, you must have had at least one episode of mania or its milder form, hypomania.
During these stretches, you may feel fabulous, with lots of energy and an "up" mood. But in the case of bipolar disorder,” those feelings are a symptom of mental illness. So it’s important to recognize the early signs that mania is developing.
Just because you’re extra-energetic and in a good mood doesn’t mean you’re starting a manic episode. But be aware of patterns, such as when:
- You feel you’re on top of your life even if it’s not really going well.
- You have anxiety that can’t be explained by a stressful event, such as an upcoming exam.
- Your thoughts race and you're irritable.
- You're sleeping less and not taking good care of yourself.
- You talk too much or faster than usual.
- Your sex drive is revved up.
- You turn more often to alcohol or drugs or do other risky things like drive dangerously.
Once you're in a full-blown manic state, you may not think you need help or be willing to accept it. That's why the best way to deal with mania is to address it early on.
If you think you're heading into a manic stretch, first get in touch with your doctor. They may need to change your medication dose or recommend that you try another one.
Take your medicine exactly as your doctor prescribes, even if you don’t think you need it. Tell your doctor about any supplements or herbs you’re taking. They may cause worrisome side effects.
Other things that may help:
- Review what's happening in your life and your stress level. See if you can dial back your commitments a bit. If you slow down now, you may avoid having to take more time off later because your symptoms got worse.
- See a counselor or therapist. If you aren’t already in therapy, find someone who treats people with bipolar disorder. They can help you learn ways to identify and cope with troubling thoughts, emotions, or behavior.
- Look for ways to relax. When you talk with others, focus on listening. Carve out time to read, listen to your favorite music, or watch a show.
- Get enough sleep. This is not a time to skimp on your ZZZs. You need at least 6 hours a night.
- Watch out for caffeine. Steer clear not only of caffeine in beverages, like sodas and energy drinks, but in over-the-counter medications.
- Stay away from drugs and alcohol. They can affect your mood and may interact with medications you’re taking.
- Above all, don’t postpone seeking help so you can continue to ride the manic “high.” The higher your manic episode rises, the further your mood may tumble after it ends.
Talk to your doctor or therapist about what you should do when you're already in a manic state. And plan ahead. You might ask trusted friends or relatives to call your doctor if they notice signs of mania.
Here are some practical ways to protect yourself while you're in a manic episode:
- Keep up your normal routine. As much as possible, try to maintain a stable daily schedule. This includes your sleep, eating, and exercise patterns.
- Guard your finances: Limit how much cash you carry. Consider temporarily giving your credit cards to someone you trust to avoid impulse purchases.
- Delay big decisions. Don't make any major changes before you talk to someone, such as a mental health clinician or a relative. At the least, give yourself time to reflect before you take action.
- Bypass risky situations. This isn’t the right time to begin a new relationship or sort through a conflict with a friend.
Once you feel better, keep up your healthy habits. That includes exercise, which can improve both mood and sleep. Build up your toolbox of strategies to reduce the intensity of future episodes:
- Look at what boosts your stress level. Lots of aspects of your life, whether it’s your job or a person you deal with, may affect your mood.
- Think about what may have been early signs of previous episodes. Was missing sleep for a few nights an early signal? Tell loved ones about those signs so they can watch out for them, too.
- Track your mood each day. When you keep a daily mood diary, you and your doctor or therapist can look for patterns. How do medication, sleep patterns, and life events affect how you feel?
- Once your mood is stable, reflect on how mania affects you in good and bad ways. Write down those thoughts. Then you can remind yourself of the downside when you're tempted to ignore the early signs of mania.