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So far I’ve talked about sleep and diet, up next is relaxation.
Relaxation has been a huge tool for me when it comes to managing my moods. I’m sure some of that has to do with the fact that I have a co-morbid anxiety disorder, but a large part of it has to do with the fact that stress can trigger bipolar episodes.
Relaxation is the number one tool I have for combating stress, and the concept is simple.
When things begin to escalate, take the time to stop, and then do something relaxing.
Unfortunately, doing things that are relaxing are the easy part, actually becomming relaxed can be much more difficult.
The first step in employing this tool is to make a list of things that relax you. This could be as simple as lighting candles, or could be something bigger like going to the beach. Everyone is different, so it might be that the things that relax you are different than what relaxes someone else.
Does jumping around listening to death-metal make you feel relaxed? It does for some people, and that’s why the list is important. This way you’ll know what, exactly, is in your arsenal as far as tools for relaxation.
Here’s an example of some of the things I do:
- Taking a bath
- Spending time in a sauna
- Going to the movies
- Getting a massage
- Playing with my dog
- Listening to Frank Sinatra
- Grocery shopping (I know that one is kind of weird, but it works for me)
- Meeting up with a friend for sushi
- Organizing anything
And the list goes on and on. It is helpful to identify as many things as possible, because if I need to help myself relax at 11pm I probably wont go grocery shopping (but it happens sometimes). Also, I might not feel like doing anything creative, like drawing, because that inspiration can come and go. The more options you have, the more likely you’ll have a series of things that you’ll be able to utilize at the moment you need them.
Also, my relaxation needs while hypomanic are significantly different than my needs while becoming depressed. While hypomanic, running on a treadmill might feel relaxing. While depressed, you couldn’t pay me enough to get on a treadmill!
Step two is being able to identify when to use your relaxation tools, which tends to be the more difficult part. I would suggest two things:
- Schedule time every day for the purpose of relaxation. This will help serve as a reminder to do relaxing activities, because it can be easy to forget -especially when things are particularly stressful.
- React to stressful situations or feelings with relaxing activities as well.
Obviously if you’re feeling stressed, that would be a great indicator to do a relaxing activity. Personally, because of the anxiety disorder I have, I feel stressed about 80% of the time (or more), so I’ve learned to ignore the portion of my brain that tells me I’m on red alert. If the check engine light is always on, how do you know when to check the engine?
I try to counteract stress in the event of the following occurring:
Noticing physical indicators:
- Clenched jaw
- Hunched posture
- Sore or stiff neck
- Tension headaches
- Nausea, in some cases
In accompaniment of stressful situations, before or after:
- General planned stressful situations, like seeing a doctor or having a driving test
- Stressful social situations, planned or not
- Particularly harsh work days, or immediately following if something negative happens at work
- Being physically sick, like having the flu or a migraine
- Immediately following unforeseen bad news, like getting outrageous bills in the mail, having fun plans suddenly canceled, or even finding out someone close to you has fallen ill
Noticing shifts in mood:
- A sudden feeling of depression or anger that occurs without warning (and possibly without “reason”)
- Verbally lashing out at others
- When feelings of isolation occur
- Even sudden hypomanic mood changes, as they can transform when stress continues to contribute to them
Sometimes I think of my body as a child I have to babysit, and if I keep forcing it to run around without any relaxation, it’ll turn on me. If that kid doesn’t get nap-time, there will be cranky wailing and it’ll inevitably throw a fit in the middle of the mall.
I know, too, that it really takes me a while to adjust when things change suddenly or stressful situations happen. I’ve witnessed firsthand (as have some of my prior co-workers) that I’m unable to jump back in to situations after a lady yells at me at the cash register for 10 minutes. I need that extra time to react, relax, and get things working again before I can move on.
And finally, don’t be disappointed if doing one relaxing activity doesn’t relax you entirely, that i, unfortunately, normal. You may require many activities to feel the effects of relaxation, which is why I suggest having a scheduled time to work on this every day. For me, relaxation has been cumulative. To some extent it can be built up, and when it is built up we can deal with stress on a less explosive scale.
Anyway, whatever your situation, bipolar or not, medicated or not, it doesn’t matter. I would very highly suggest making sure your body gets the relaxation it needs to function properly. You just might find that those situations that used to set off spiraling episodes can be curbed somewhat if we give our bodies breaks from the inordinate amount of stress we are all under on a daily basis.