Risk Factors

black and white roller coaster

There is no single cause for bipolar disorder. Scientists are still learning about the possible causes of this disorder, but many factors act together and contribute to producing this illness or increasing the risk of developing bipolar disorder. It is one of several conditions referred to as mood disorders, which are diagnosed based on the occurrence of episodes. Okay, well what is an episode? An episode is caused by a mood disorder, it refers to a set of symptoms that occur during the same period.

What Is a Bipolar Mood Episode?

• A set of symptoms that go together, with a beginning prodromal phase, a middle acute phase, and a final recovery phase.

• The polarity of a mood episode can be depressed, manic, hypomanic, or mixed.

• Episodes can last anywhere from a few days to several months.

• Some people switch polarities in the middle of an episode (for example, from depressed to manic or from manic to mixed). (Miklowitz, 2019)

What kind of symptoms?

     That’s where I think it is complicated because individuals vary from person to person. Individuals with this mood disorder experience manic or hypomanic episodes (intense feelings of euphoria), depressive episodes (intense low periods more than just sad), and potentially some psychotic symptoms during these stages. Throw all of those together into a shaker bottle, don’t forget the metal ball thingy, and you get mixed episodes.

Everyone with bipolar disorder has different variations in their moods, I have yet to find someone alike. 

What about periods when there aren’t any symptoms? That’s what they like to call periods of euthymia or periods or “normalcy” or whatever that is. And for those who constantly vary from mood to mood, that means they are cycling. Not on purpose for exercise or anything, just because the brain tells them to cycle back and forth from super manic to depressed and mixed moods. 

What’s different from everyday people’s mood variations?

The difference is other people do not feel the intense and distressing symptoms that are mental, emotional, and physical either during a depressive episode or a manic/hypomanic episode to where it pushes individuals out of reality. The swings in moods are intense, distressing, and very overwhelming.

The intensity of bipolar disorder symptoms reminds me of an oscilloscope, up and down…. some people’s graphs are more up than down, and some more down than up, but these are only the intense parts of a rollercoaster; people without this mood disorder have periods where the rollercoaster coasts; people with this mood disorder are always in the scariest highest point or the scariest drop of their lives. How exhausting!

The following are risk factors that may increase the chances of becoming ill or having an episode:

• Life changes (positive or negative stress): loss of a job, beginning or ending a relationship, and the birth of a child
• Alcohol and drug abuse: drinking binges; experimenting with illegal drugs; excessive marijuana use or opiate use
• Sleep deprivation: changing time zones; cramming for exams; sudden changes in sleep-wake habits
• Family distress or interpersonal conflicts: High levels of criticism from a parent, spouse, or partner; provocative or hostile environments with family members or coworkers
• Inconsistency with medications: Suddenly stopping your mood stabilizers; regularly missing dosages

The following are protective factors that decrease the chances of having an episode:

• Observing and monitoring your moods and fluctuation triggers: Keep a daily mood journal or a social rhythm chart.
• Exercise: Jogging, yoga, long walks, gym workouts, hiking, biking
• Maintaining regular daily and nightly routines: Going to bed and waking up at regular hours; having a predictable exercise and social schedule
Relying on social and family supports Clear communication with relatives, asking your significant others for help in emergencies
Engaging in regular medical and psychosocial treatment: Staying on a consistent medication regimen, obtaining weekly psychotherapy; attending support groups

Cool! A list of things I have already gone over a million times, right? 

It is always difficult to try to implement any of these strategies to maintain your health. 

However, implementing one or two will help to control swinging into severe mood episodes.

Maintaining a mood chart will help to keep track of activity levels for yourself, and for your doctor, and it can also help identify extra triggers in specific environmental settings. Each chart allows you to track moods each day for up to a month. A few minutes before you brush your teeth, take the time to chart your moods. Keeping the charted moods each month will help to guide you throughout the year. The more you do it, the better you can point out and examine what it is that creates your bipolar disorder shifts. It can be difficult to remember to chart but doing it at a certain time day to day will help you keep up with it. That’s a huge accomplishment for your mental health.

References:

Miklowitz, D. J. (2019). The bipolar disorder survival guide:
What you and your family need to know (3rd ed.). Guilford
Publications.

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