When I’m suffering from a manic episode, I need to craft and I cannot prioritize.
Every task that my brain comes up with must be done right then. And, like most people suffering from a manic or hypomanic episode, I come up with a lot of tasks.
Many times, my brain thinks I should start new craft projects for friends. “The holidays are right around the corner!” my manic brain screams in November. “I must cross stitch something that’ll normally take me 30 hours to complete, but right now it’ll only take 5!”
Basically, my manic brain is too ambitious for its britches. When I’ve started new projects in a hypomanic state, where I feel euphoric and superhuman, I rarely finish them, leaving them–and their accoutrements like needles–around the house for anyone to step on.
During hypomanic phases, I’ve made oodles of poorly-sewed plushies (including a whole sushi tray); painted multiple canvases and glass pictures; and cross stitched coasters, QR codes, and a multitude of other fabric projects. I don’t properly prepare for these projects, and I also usually don’t clean up until the hypomanic phase is over.
I also feel a sense of urgency with the projects. They end up rushed: I pull the stitches too tightly, warping the fabric, or splash paint on the trim when painting awkward-looking trees on the walls–permanent fixtures in our dining room that my husband absolutely hates, haha!
Like many people dealing with mania, I’ve also purchased hundreds of dollars of supplies. I’ve cluttered up my garage and ended up buying so many duplicates, I ran out of space and ended up throwing them out in a moment when I was more stable and clearheaded.
I’ve even left my fabrics and embroidery threads on the floor for the cat to pee on, eventually tossing more than half of my massive collection.
One hypomanic Christmas, I thought my father-in-law and his wife didn’t have enough presents, so I stayed up on Christmas Eve making them pink and purple hats with spare fabric and hot glue–without measuring.
The hats turned out too small, were scratchy, and fell apart almost immediately after being opened. I still remember my father-in-law trying the hat on and having it not even cover the top of his head.
After we finished opening presents, the hats were unceremoniously placed in the trash. Christmas Day, I felt ashamed and embarrassed, my face hot and tears welling in my eyes.
Recognizing that almost all of the presents I’d made for family members were of poor quality and thus rightfully unappreciated, I stopped making presents and really participating in the holidays for years.
Years later, when my daughter was four months old, I entered a similar hypomanic state and decided to paint a cherry blossom branch on a huge canvas.
Putting her in my Ergo front-pack baby carrier, I hunched over the kitchen table and painted for 4 hours, losing track of time while she slept. The project felt so urgent, I didn’t stop to eat lunch, feed my child, or even go to the bathroom.
Realizing that I was only creating when my brain was sick, that was the last craft project–or art of any kind–I produced for four years.
Thankfully, I am now much more stable. Once I was on an more even keel and not in danger of going manic, I started writing fanfiction and enjoying creating again, writing quick short stories that I can produce and publish online for my fans in a few hours.
Since then, one year after I began writing for fun again, I’ve embarked on other art projects. I’ve painted small ceramics: tiny projects–fridge magnets and paperweights–things I can get done in small increments, and things that won’t trigger that sense of urgency again.
This past holiday season, I took up cross-stitching presents for Christmas gifts again, this time for fun, and the biggest project–which really did take me 30 hours–turned out beautifully. My stitches are straight and just tight enough to make the project look nice.
I earned this stability through hard work–taking and rebalancing my medication cocktail on a regular basis, checking in with my treatment team whenever I feel like I’m slipping into a mood episode, and engaging in psychotherapy.
I am happy to say that I am now creating again, thoroughly enjoying myself and taking my time rather than feeling pressured to complete things on an unreasonable timetable.
And when I do feel that invisible pull, that pressure, that sense of urgency that I feel sometimes even when stable because that’s what my sick brain associates with crafting, I set the project down and do something else.
I am much, much happier now.
Have you ever felt like this? What does your brain force you to do when you’re manic?
Trigger Warning: Mentions of intrusive thoughts that tell me to self-harm.
A dear relative came to me via Facebook messenger, telling me they’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and asking for my advice. They told me that they were scared of their diagnosis and they hoped I’d be able to understand.
Here is what I said to them, over an hours-long text conversation:
Oh, [name], I totally understand being scared of a diagnosis, especially one for a lifelong condition that can be dangerous under some circumstances. The best thing you can do to reduce your fear is to educate yourself on what this diagnosis really means.
What a bipolar diagnosis really means is different for everyone. But what it means to me is that I have an extra layer of work on top of my normal affairs to manage my moods.
I have to make sure I take my meds on time twice a day, monitor my moods so that I’m sure that the meds are working, monitor my actions to make sure they’re not wildly off base and within the range of societal norms, get enough sleep (this is especially important to avoid manic episodes), monitor my spending, avoid alcohol, and so on and so forth.
It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s just part and parcel with living with a mental illness. If I don’t put the work in, I become miserable and a danger to myself and others. Thankfully, the work gets easier as you get used to it.
I also used to think a bipolar diagnosis made me fragile. And to a certain extent, that’s true. There’s certain things I can’t do that other people can, like live without medication and drink and stay up all night.
But fragile is the wrong impression; if you go through life thinking you’re fragile, you’ll damage your confidence and make yourself believe you’re made of glass.
So while fragile is the wrong word, try delicate instead. With bipolar disorder, you have a delicate constitutional makeup. You need to be careful with yourself and treat yourself right. If you don’t, you won’t thrive or even survive well, and that’s no way to live a life.
I highly recommend educating yourself on what you have to do to treat yourself right. That’s the first step, and will help resolve your fears. Once you’re armed with knowledge about what the diagnosis really means to you and what you need to do to manage it, then you’ll be able to tackle it head on.
Do you have meds? Do they work? I would highly recommend finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with who can work with you through your diagnosis. A psychiatrist doesn’t have to be warm and friendly to know their stuff, but a therapist should be someone you feel you can talk to and basically share your struggles, challenges, and triumphs.
If you’re not on meds yet, go back to the psychiatrist and ask for some, especially a mood stabilizer to avoid endangering yourself or others with manic episodes.
Finding a med cocktail that actually works will take some time and a lot of wading through side effects, so don’t give up! You can find something that works for you, and even if your specific diagnosis is medication resistant, there are other things you can try like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but that’s mostly good for depressive episodes.
Still, there are therapies out there and you can treat this disease with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and self-care.
But you do have to respect that this is a disease. It’s a brain disease, sure, but it’s a real and valid threat to your happiness and the happiness of those around you.
Give the disorder the respect it deserves and don’t underestimate how quickly things can fall apart. It’s a balancing act, but the more scaffolding you have in place, the less difficult it will be to balance your life.
What I mean by scaffolding is medication, a treatment team, therapy, and good habits like getting enough sleep every night. Once you have these things in place, you will find it easier to keep your mood on an even keel.
As someone who has been managing my bipolar disorder for years, I’ve realized that my brain lies to me. It does not have my best interests at heart.
I have intrusive thoughts that tell me to hurt myself, and I have to acknowledge that I had the thought and let it go. I often say to myself, “well, that was a thought! How interesting!”
And in this way I can look at those sorts of thoughts with a neutral mindset, as if I’m some sort of outside observer just looking at my brain and all its idiosyncrasies.
I know it’s hard to believe right now, but trust me: you are a human being with inherent value. Do you think your friends deserve pain? Treat yourself as a friend. That’s what you deserve, not this brain that lies to you.
You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. But I am confident you can manage this illness and I’ll be here for you, too.
Like most people facing a bipolar diagnosis, my relative was scared and stressed. They didn’t know where to turn to start educating themselves about their diagnosis.
If you can find someone in your life who has successfully managed their bipolar disorder for years, like I have, even better.
If you’re facing a bipolar disorder diagnosis, there is hope for you to have a successful, well-adjusted life. Make no mistake, it’ll take work, and sometimes there will be situations outside your control, but that work gets easier with time.
My relative asked me to check in on them periodically and offer them advice, which I plan to do. I’ve already set a repeating event in my calendar with a notification on my phone to remind me to do so.
Like I said, I’ll be here for them–and I’m here for you, too.
I can hear you now: Sticking to a routine is one of the most difficult things ever with bipolar disorder. Why do I have to do it?
I’ll tell you why: because your brain thrives on structure, and following a daily routine can help prevent and treat bipolar mood episodes, according to Ellen Frank, PhD, professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the Depression and Manic Depression Prevention Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
In a study of interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPRST) and its effectiveness of managing mood episodes, Frank found that patients with bipolar disorder who followed a routine survived much longer without an episode than those who didn’t follow a rhythm, and that IPSRT was extremely effective at preventing mania and depression.
My therapist told me years ago that consistency would be the best gift I could give my children, and I despaired. How could I, being an inconsistent person based on my mental illness and habits developed in a chaotic childhood, provide them with a life with reliable “rocks,” or big activities that we did daily?
Finding–and sticking to–a pattern has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. And as we’ve added to our family, I have changed the pattern. But I’ve noticed a stark difference in my own happiness and the happiness of my children when I create order in my life rather than submit myself and my family to chaos.
The importance of creating a daily routine–and following it!–can’t be stressed enough. But how do you create–and more importantly, stick to–a routine?
Read on for some tips and tricks based on my own personal experience.
Tip #1: Start Small
When I’m manic, I tend to want to organize my life. When I’m in this state, I suffer from the compulsion to make to-do lists and plan out my schedule and the schedules of my family.
So my first tip is probably obvious: don’t start planning your routine when manic. My next tip is probably less so: start small.
What I mean by that is don’t add a bunch of items to your to-do list all at once and expect to follow them daily. You’re setting yourself up for failure that way.
Start with the “rocks,” or big activities: meals, sleep, and work hours. Which leads into tip two.
Tip #2: Fix Your Sleep Hygiene
I could go on and on about how crucial sleep is for stabilizing your mental health. (In fact, I have, here and here.) Sleep hygiene is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can get yourself on an even keel and reduce the severity of mood episodes, even and especially preventing them.
Sleep is a rock in your day, so try to schedule sleep times. Schedule wake times. And try to stick to those. If you have sleep problems, talk to your doctor. You need enough sleep.
How much is enough depends on each individual person. Some adults need 7-8 hours, others need more. But if you’re not getting enough sleep, that’s a fast track to mania.
I go to sleep between 9-10pm every night. Approximately twenty minutes before bed, I shut off my phone and take a shower or bath, depending on my mood and how much time I have. I wind down at night by lying in bed by either praying or planning out my next fanfiction.
Waking up used to be much more difficult for me, but now that I’ve lowered the dose of one of my meds, I’ve been finding myself waking up with much more energy. But I still roll over and go back to sleep after turning off my alarm.
I’m telling you this tip–fix your sleep hygiene–but I’m also telling myself. I need to start waking up at 7am consistently like I used to and address the likely lingering slight depression.
Starting tomorrow, I will be waking up with my alarm at 7am and forcing myself out of bed rather than shutting it off and sleeping in. Wish me luck!
Tip #2: Schedule Meal Times
In addition to sleep, one of the quickest ways we can stabilize our moods is to keep our blood sugar levels stable. Being an Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), I know I myself am extremely susceptible to being hangry.
If you can, try to stick to regular meal times. Eating 3-4 small meals a day will help you keep an even mood, but not only that, it’ll help you lose weight or maintain a healthy one.
My meal routine is simple. I take my meds right before breakfast at 9:15am, eat a breakfast of a single egg and a glass of milk with sugar-free salted caramel syrup, and then take my daughter to the park until 12pm, at which point I eat lunch (usually last night’s leftovers). I eat a small snack at 3:30pm. Dinner, which I usually start making at 4:30opm, is between 5:30-6pm, depending on the recipe. I also drink about 144oz of water throughout the day.
This schedule works very well for me and my family, and helps keep me sane. Try scheduling your meals for regular times. You won’t regret it.
Tip #3: Schedule Your Work Hours
For most of us, work takes up most of our day. If you can schedule your own hours, do so. Whether you work in an office, attend school, or work from home, you need to set a start and end time.
According to Dr. Frank’s research, having a set work schedule will help you feel better. If you can, tap your colleagues, teachers, and family to help you meet your obligations with enough time for you to complete the day’s work at a set end time.
I’m a writer and a stay-at-home parent attending online psychology classes for my graduate degree, so my work day starts at 8am, when I wake up and make my daughter breakfast.
After that, we go to the park until 12pm, when we return home to eat lunch. My mother-in-law, who lives with us, watches my daughter and reads her stories and practices her sight words and hand writing from 1-4pm, during which I study. Then I make dinner at 4:30pm, eat at 5:30pm, and have time for relaxation with the rest of the family after the dinner dishes are done at 6:30pm.
At 8pm, the bedtime routine begins, including a bath for my daughter. She’s in bed by 9pm, and then I take my own shower and go to bed shortly afterwards on most nights.
My schedule is not very intense, and it leaves room for flexibility. But if you’re a homemaker, it’s especially important for you to schedule a set end to your workday. Without a specific time to stop and relax, you can easily work yourself to the bone.
As I said in the last tip, I have penciled in time to relax with my family from 6:30pm to 8pm. I also have a “night off” from the bedtime routine on Mondays, which I usually spend writing short stories or cross-stitching, hobbies I enjoy that chill me out.
Make time each day to do something you enjoy. Self-care is incredibly important in fighting mood episodes, especially depression.
There’s any number of things you can do for self-care. You could take a walk, indulge in a cup of tea or coffee, or do something creative, like painting or writing.
For a list of 100 Doable Ideas for Self-care When You’re Suffering from Depression, click here.
Tip #5: Forgive Yourself
If something throws you off your routine–and something always will eventually–don’t panic. Try to be flexible enough to roll with the punches.
Accept what has happened and then follow your routine as best as you’re able. Forgive yourself if you can’t quite make it one day. There’s always tomorrow.
When something interrupts my routine, I get crabby. That’s what I mean about feeling an impact to my happiness when my routine is altered, especially without my permission. But even with my permission, I struggle to remain happy with the change.
For example, Monday nights are my night off, and Tuesday is the night my husband and mother-in-law go shopping. This Monday, my mother-in-law suggested that they hit the store that night rather than Tuesday and give me a night off on Thursday, a change I agreed to because it would be better for my husband.
By the end of the night, while doing the unexpected bedtime routine with my daughter, I was cranky. She got on my nerves more than I care to admit.
But I bathed her and put her to bed, tucking her in and singing “Rock-A-Bye Baby” twice, as is her routine. Then, exhausted, I went directly to bed.
I made sure to give myself grace for being annoyed and reminded myself that this change was temporary and I agreed to it. The next day, Tuesday, my mother-in-law took over the bedtime routine and gave me that night off instead of Thursday, which I was pleased with.
Sometimes routines don’t work out, and that’s okay. As long as you forgive yourself and get right back into it as soon as you can, you’ll be alright.
Make adjustments as needed, like getting a hotel room if you’re not going to get home on time to sleep. A hotel room costs less than a hospitalization if your mood destabilizes.
If you suffer from bipolar disorder, routines are crucial to your success in treating your mental illness. They prevent and treat mood episodes, keeping you stable and happy.
Think of following one for not only yourself, but also your family and those around you.
To follow a routine, start small, fix your sleep hygiene, set meal times, schedule a start and end times to the work day using your colleagues, and forgive yourself if the routine doesn’t go as planned.
You can follow a routine. You can be consistent, despite your mental illness making that difficult. Schedule your rocks and stick to those commitments. You will benefit from doing so.
Wintertime. For most people, it’s a time of holidays and cheer, gift giving, good food, and maybe giving something back to the community.
But for those of us with seasonal depression, which may be a component of bipolar disorder during the cloudy months, wintertime can be filled with drudgery and medication adjustments.
Not all people with bipolar disorder are affected by the seasons. But some of us dread winter because it may suck us back into the pit of depression.
Research has shown that for people with seasonal depression and bipolar disorder, the depressive episodes are more severe than for people without mental illnesses. Which is why it’s so important to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) effectively.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to treat the seasonal depressive episodes that we suffer from.
5 Treatments for Seasonal Depression and Bipolar Disorder
1. Follow a Routine
Following a routine will help you keep your circadian rhythm, or body clock, on track. SAD appears to be caused by a missmatch of the sleep/wake cycle and your body clock, which is why it’s so important not to give into the temptation to sleep until noon during the winter.
Try to keep your wintertime sleeping, eating, and relaxing habits as similar to summertime as possible.
My daughter and I go to a park every morning but Sunday (we have church in the morning then), rain or shine. The trips allow her to run around and get the wiggles out, as well as giving both of us the chance to soak up some wintertime sunshine and breathe fresh air.
After the park, we have lunch, and then Story Hour, followed by dinner, baths, and bed. We’ve followed this pattern for about four months now and it’s kept my entire family on an even keel.
Follow a routine. Your body will thank you.
2. Invest in Light Therapy
Light therapy, an effective treatment for SAD, is easy. All you need to do is invest in a specialized lamp that mimics the sun and sit in front of it for 30 minutes a day.
I love my SAD lamp. It got me through a terrible winter last year, lifting my depression. Before my husband bought me the lamps and I started using them daily, I had sunk to some pretty low levels. Thank goodness for light therapy.
The instructions for my lamp told me that it takes a couple of weeks of daily therapy to see a real difference, but I found that even a few days made a marked change in my depression.
I now use my SAD lamp every day during my study period, from 1-3pm. I keep it on my computer desk off-set from my monitor, and it shines on my face and helps me ward off depression and energize me to take on the rest of the day.
One thing I would caution you about SAD lamps, however, is that if you have bipolar disorder, you absolutely cannot use them late in the afternoon/evening or at night. The way the SAD lamp works is mimicking sunlight, which helps your body clock wake you up.
So if you have bipolar disorder and you don’t want to stay up all night and possibly go manic, do your light therapy in the morning or early afternoon.
Keep in mind that light therapy is not a guaranteed treatment. It works well for me, but it might not work for you. And do be careful to only use it for 30 minutes to an hour a day; that much bright light can induce mania.
3. Reduce your Stress
Stress is a major contributing factor in SAD and can trigger bipolar mood episodes, NAMI says. With our busy lives, it’s close to impossible to eliminate all sources of stress, but there are steps you can take to do so.
The winter is a time to hunker down and avoid major changes in your life. If you can manage it, don’t move to a new place or change jobs or have babies, all three major stressors.
Five years ago, I had a baby in the fall-approaching-winter season, and while I didn’t sink into too deep of a depression at that time, I was at high risk for it. Like most parents of newborns, I stumbled through her infancy, but I chose to not make any other large changes.
Fortunately, I was able to survive her babyhood unscathed from depression, unlike my son’s infancy years before. We’d made several changes–graduating college and getting married, moving 1500 miles away from friends and family, and moving apartments, and those were contributing factors to my postpartum psychotic breakdown shortly after my son’s birth.
The recovery took the better part of a decade, but I did recover, thankfully, and now I have tips and tricks to manage my bipolar disorder that I am sharing with you.
Try to reduce stress in your life. Plan ahead to lay low in the winter.
4. Take vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D, which our bodies make only after exposure to sunlight, have been linked to depressive disorders. Especially in northern climes, the weak winter sunlight isn’t strong enough for people’s bodies to make adequate amounts of vitamin D.
Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels and whether you should take supplements.
While living in the Pacific Northwest, I have been taking vitamin D3 for years, even in the summer. When I take the vitamins, I feel more alert, more awake, and happier. If I miss even two or three days of my supplements, I feel like garbage.
I highly recommend taking vitamin D during the winter. It could help you ward off or even beat your SAD.
5. Make Plans
The good thing about having seasonal depression, if there can said to be a good thing about it, is that you can expect to have a depressive episode based on your calendar.
You can make a plan to treat your SAD and your bipolar depressive episodes. Figure out what triggers them so you can ward them off before or during the wintertime, and bring in your treatment team, like a therapist or psychiatrist.
Make plans for serious wintertime problems, too. Not only your depression, but things like massive snowstorms that knock out power to your house. Having a plan in place for potential problems will make it easier to deal with any challenges that arise and should avoid triggering a depressive episode for you.
My plans are simple: I’m going to manage my stress, take vitamin D, use my SAD lamp, follow a routine, and have contingencies for emergencies.
Seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder can be terrible in conjunction with each other.
But you can manage your wintertime depressive episodes. The plan is simple: follow a routine, invest in light therapy, take vitamin D, manage your stress, and plan ahead for episode triggers and emergencies.
Be proactive about your SAD. Don’t let the depression beat you.
Fixing your sleep hygiene, taking your medications daily, seeing a therapist regularly–these are the kinds of resolutions people who struggle with their mental health need to make.
And make sure not to set resolutions that interfere with your health. If there’s a resolution that forces me to sacrifice sleep, encouraging me to sleep less than 8 hours a night, that is not one I’ll even entertain.
My resolutions in this area are twofold:
Monitor myself better for signs of depression and mania, and
Seek help at the very first signs of a bipolar mood episode.
I have a treatment team waiting in the wings ready for me to call on them. If you don’t, getting one in place would be a great resolution. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.
2. Know Thyself
Not everyone knows what challenges them most, but a lot of us have a gut instinct as to what those issues are.
Before you make a resolution to hit the gym everyday that you’ll balk at when it comes time to put your nose to the grindstone, sit down and figure out why you balk.
Do you not like the gym because you’re overwhelmed by all the options? Ask one of the employees to recommend a class to you.
Do you not like the gym because you have to get up early? Try a walk after dinner instead. You can even take the kids!
Do you not like the gym because of social anxiety? Try practicing meditation and go to a therapist to conquer that problem first.
And so on.
Know what challenges you the most and work around those issues. Starting with something that makes you more comfortable and that you feel you can tackle first will give you confidence to handle the next step.
My plan in making resolutions is to list the barriers that will get in the way of me fulfilling those resolutions. Be they internal, like social anxiety, or external, like my need for childcare, I will list them out and figure out ways around or through the obstacles.
My resolution for this area is to sit down and identify trouble spots when it comes to treating myself right. To prevent myself from sinking into a depressive episode this January, I need to figure out where I’m struggling.
My resolution in this area is to start keeping a daily gratitude journal. If I can find out what I’m grateful for on a daily basis, I can hopefully also identify where my challenges are.
3. Break Resolutions Down into Steps
When I’m depressed, most of the time I’m completely overwhelmed.
I am usually unable to see past the seemingly-insurmountable mountain of dishes, and I simply cannot think my way past that into “do one dish at a time.”
On the flip side, my past resolutions have been monsters. “Lose weight.” “Be fit.” “Eat healthy.”
But “eat healthy and lose weight” are too big of resolutions for me, especially when I’m depressed. They’re not specific, measurable, or time-sensitive. “Eat one salad a day” is much, much easier.
Rather than “eat healthy and lose weight,” my resolution in this area is to eat salads or vegetables for lunches every day.
For a more extensive post on how to break things down into bite-sized pieces when you have depression, click here.
4. Start When You Feel You Can
You don’t have to start on January 1st just because you’ve made a New Year’s resolution.
For example, if you’re not ready to conquer your social anxiety–if you don’t buy into the process of learning how to do a goal and then doing it–then you’re not going to.
To stick to a resolution, you need to have the mindset that you can keep this, and you need to be ready to start making progress to goal.
If you need to wait until summer for your head and your heart to be in the right places, then wait until summer.
My resolution in this area is to start a gratitude journal as soon as I’m ready to do so.
5. Know That Quitting Isn’t Bad
If you make an impulse buy when your resolution is to spend less money, don’t be filled with self-loathing. Just recognize that you’ve made a mistake and move on.
And if you do make a mistake, take some time to reevaluate whether this resolution is worth keeping at that point in your life. Sometimes things we try fail because they no longer make sense to do.
There’s no shame in quitting something that no longer works for us, even when the action used to be objectively good. That’s true of everything in our lives: from our resolutions to social media to our jobs and even our relationships.
And just because you’ve put time/energy/money/work/resources into something that used to be objectively good doesn’t mean that you have to keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work now.
Keeping on the same path that doesn’t work now just because you’ve been walking it for a while is called the ‘sunk cost fallacy,’ and a lot of people get tripped up by this way of thinking.
Don’t fall into that trap. If a resolution used to work but isn’t working for you anymore, examine why that is and figure out if it’s still worth striving for.
My resolution for this area is to give myself grace when I mess up and try again on the things that are truly important and working for me at that point in my life.
With these tips and specific, measurable goals, you can stick to your New Year’s resolutions.
First, when setting resolutions, prioritize your mental health. Next, know what challenges you’ll be facing and work around them. After that, break resolutions down into steps. Start when you feel you can. And make sure to recognize that quitting isn’t bad.
Give yourself grace this year, and strive to make positive, wholesome changes in your life.
Do you feel like Dug, the talking dog from Disney’s Up?
Are you constantly drawn to new and shiny things and find your attention scattered, with your brain unable to focus on what you need to get done? Do you constantly start projects you never finish, leaving them lying around the house? Do you make irrational purchases like expensive new shoes when your month’s money has already been spoken for?
Then you might have a problem with impulse control.
As a woman with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that’s marked by impulsivity just like ADHD, I constantly struggle to not give in to my impulses.
Just this morning, when my alarm blared at 7:30am, I told myself, “I can go back to bed. I won’t miss my family’s 8am Bible study, something I really want to go to.”
What happened next is probably predictable: I went back to bed, fell asleep, and missed the Bible study, disappointing my family and reaffirming to them that I am not someone they can trust to reliably show up in the mornings.
If I can’t show up in the mornings, I clearly can’t show up at other times (or so the thinking rightfully goes), so giving into that one impulse broke my family’s trust in me in all situations.
You’d think that with those consequences, I’d have an easier time resisting the impulse to go back to bed in the moment. But I don’t.
What is Impulse Control?
According to my therapist, impulse control is the ability to forecast future consequences, step back, and then not give into the hasty decision your mind urges you to make.
One of the diagnostic criteria for bipolar mania is the complete inability to look into the future and recognize when decisions are bad. That’s why people suffering manic or hypomanic episodes often engage in dangerous behaviors like excessive spending or engaging in high-risk sex.
How to Build Impulse Control
In order to build my family’s trust back up in me, especially that of my frequently (and rightfully) disappointed husband, my therapist told me I need to prove myself reliable and learn to counteract my hasty decisions.
She said I need to learn to forecast the future, and slow down enough to reflect on what I’m doing in the moment, and with practice, stop giving into the impulses based on the well-thought-out consequences.
But how can I do that? How can you do that? Here are 3 tips to build much-needed impulse control.
Tip #1: Make a List
One of the best ways to train yourself to look into the future in the moment is to look into the future before you’re in that moment.
Making a list of the times you’re drawn to be impulsive is a tip that may help you prepare to step back in those times and think about your decisions.
For example, I am impulsive during the following times:
Waking up “early” in the morning for Bible study
I go back to bed
I disappoint my family and show them that I am unreliable
Faced with an onerous task I don’t want to do, like studying
I trawl the internet
I don’t learn the material I need to learn to pass my graduate school classes, impacting my career
Intending to eat 1/3 of a pint of chocolate ice cream
I eat the whole pint
I gain weight, impacting my health and waistline
Bored while watching my 4-year-old daughter
Rather than engaging her, I play on my phone
I show her that she is less important to me than my electronics time
Visiting a craft store
I buy excessive amounts of supplies for projects I’ll never complete
I run out of storage space for craft supplies, I waste money, and the unfinished projects weigh on my mind
This is an inconclusive list; there’s a number of different situations that I am impulsive in that have terrible consequences that I do not consider. Just making that list out, I’m recognizing that my impulsivity is a huge, damning problem.
Not only is my lack of impulse control bad for my family, the most important part of my life, it’s bad for my wallet, my body, my future counseling career, my house, and my self-esteem.
If I can’t control myself, not only is my family disappointed in me, but I am, too. And often times after a hasty decision, I’m left wondering what happened.
No more. I’m making my list and recognizing when I’ve messed up in the past so I can figure out what decisions to make in the future.
Make your list today.
Now that you’ve identified where you struggle with impulse control, here’s what to do when you have your list:
Put a finger over your mouth, as if you’re considering about what to say. This physical trigger will remind you of your list.
Take a deep breath and tell yourself, “I need to think. What are the consequences to this behavior?”
Step back and think through your decisions before you make them. This will get easier with practice.
The more you think through consequences, the easier it will be for you to not act on your impulses. Use your list to project what will happen in the future.
Tip #2: Think About Rewards to Motivate Yourself
Operant learning is a form of associative learning based on positive and negative reinforcement. The negative reinforcement, or punisher, is forecasting the future and determining that you do not want the negative consequences.
But what about times when you have to motivate yourself to get things done?
Many adults with bipolar disorder, myself included, are “time blind”; we forget the purpose of our tasks, so we quit when things get hard.
Sometimes imagining the negative consequences (the stick, or negative reinforcement) is not enough. Sometimes we need positive reinforcement (a carrot).
So when you’re faced with a task or project you have no desire to see through, ask yourself, “What will I feel when I finish this project?” You may feel happiness, a sense of accomplishment, and/or pride. You may feel any number of positive emotions, including relief.
Whatever you’ll feel, try hard to feel the emotion in the moment. If you can feel the happiness you will feel when your project is done, then you’ll start to associate good feelings with the project and completing it.
So every time you sit down to work on the project, feel that happiness. This positive reinforcement may see you through.
Tip #3: Conquer that Sense of Urgency
If you’re anything like me, you’re faced with a sense of urgency. My tasks have to be done right then, no matter what my current project is. They must.
Throughout the day, I take on more than I can handle and I try to accomplish everything at once. I have difficulty prioritizing and often get distracted by newer, shinier tasks.
For example, I am a moderator of a Discord server for a literary community. When a task–like cataloguing disciplinary actions taken against unruly server members for our records–comes sailing down the pipeline, I’m often tempted to drop everything and get those specific tasks done.
But this is a mistake. In the case of the record-keeping, the server has gone without those records up until this point; we can wait a bit longer. I have difficulties with thinking every task is important and needs done immediately.
So to combat this, I’ve started making specific, segregated to-do lists that I can look over and prioritize at my leisure.
Writing down the task so I won’t forget about it–and then setting the task aside for more important ones in the moment–works for me. That’s actually a principle in David Allen’s Get Things Done (GTD) system: get everything out of your head by writing everything down, no matter how small and mundane.
I use the Microsoft OneNote app to type in tasks under specific headings like Schedule, School, Fics & Server, Misc, and Should Do Soon. OneNote is convenient because it’s on my phone; I can log the task as soon as I think of it and then put my phone back into my pocket, setting the task aside.
Not everything needs done right away. You can take a breath or two before jumping into the next task. Prioritizing is difficult, but if you want to control your impulses, you need to conquer that sense of urgency.
Controlling your impulses may sound like an impossible task. But in reality, the meat and potatoes of it is making a series of decisions that are objectively better for you by thinking them through.
This sounds challenging, and it is. But with practice, you’ll be able to easily forecast the future and make note of consequences before you make a hasty decision based on emotional impulses.
You can start to tame your impulses by making a list, thinking of motivational rewards, and conquering that sense of urgency.
So much baking, so much fuss, so much shopping to nonplus. Cute rhymes aside, surviving the holidays with bipolar disorder is no joke. But dealing with a mental illness doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the season.
Bipolar disorder complicates the holidays for several reasons. December is a month where we’re expected to spend a ton of money, socialize in potentially uncomfortable situations (and do this a lot), and party until all hours of the night, sometimes with alcohol involved.
But with proper planning and vigilance, you can enjoy the holiday season.
You are not immune to destabilizing. If you drink and you lose control, you may as well be sending all your hard work to avoid a relapse down the drain.
This is easier said than done, especially for alcoholics or former alcoholics, of which there are a startling high number that includes people with bipolar disorder. But try to find a substitute that you can rely on and stock up at home so you can bring it to parties. Soda works for some people, or tea, or seltzer water.
I know this is hard, and I might lose readers by saying that you have to limit drinks as my first tip. But this is so important because I want you to be happy and healthy, and if you’re looking to survive the holidays with bipolar disorder, know your limits.
Tip #2: Try Not to Obsess Over Gifts
Years ago, before I had my bipolar disorder under control, I would go all out for the holidays. Growing up, my family never celebrated Christmas, so when I married into a family with holiday traditions, I was ecstatic.
One of my manifestations of my hypomania is crafting. I used to sew plushies, paint gifts, make hats, cross-stitch video game characters and QR codes for the people I affectionately call nerds (including myself!), and basically stress myself out, further exacerbating my mania.
I’d spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours on these gifts, and because I was manic and in a hurry to make gifts for everyone, I would rush these projects and they never turned out well. Because of the shoddy quality, these gifts were the least appreciated and almost never taken home from our communal meeting place.
I later realized that I was crafting gifts for me, and not because they would be thoughtful presents for those around me. This was a painful realization to come to, but it had to be done in order for me to stop inflicting these thoughtless gifts on others.
Now I buy my gifts online and have them sent to people’s homes already wrapped. It’s less personal, but sometimes a less personal touch is good. And the gifts are much more appreciated than my rushed, botched projects I made in a manic frenzy.
Don’t be like me. I’m not saying don’t handmake any gifts. You can absolutely choose to make a few, select gifts, be it either via crafting or baking or wherever your skills lie. But do limit yourself to projects you can do well and have the time to do, and give them to people who will appreciate them.
You also have my permission to give gifts that you think aren’t perfect for the recipient, even though you don’t need me saying so. (Sometimes that helps me, when my friends give me “permission” to do self-care.) Putting thought into each gift is a good thing, but try not to obsess too much over which ones you give.
Protect your mental health. Don’t go manic just because you want every gift to be perfect.
Tip #3: Do Practice Self-Care
Self-care isn’t limited to bubble baths and painting your nails, though those can be important ways to destress if they work for you.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental health. That’s it. It’s easier said than done, because of a lot of us (myself included) believe we don’t deserve to take time to fill our tanks.
But if we don’t, and we’re running on empty, that’s a surefire recipe for a depressive crash in the new year. I know I’ve suffered many Januarys feeling terrible because I overextended myself during the holidays and didn’t protect myself.
So a brief run-down of self-care during the holidays:
Prioritize sleep. If you do any of these tips, prioritize sleep. Sleep is crucial for maintaining your stable mood; there’s no better way to send a person with bipolar disorder spinning off into mania than not getting enough sleep. I know very well the awfulness that follows from not getting enough sleep, mostly from staying up working on rushed crafting projects.
Don’t overextend yourself socially. You do not have to attend every party, especially not huge ones where you may be uncomfortable. I know the extroverts among us (myself included!) love being surrounded by people. We get our energy from talking and enjoying the presence of others. But sometimes, we get too much energy, and end up manic. I often have. The same goes for introverts; don’t wear yourself out with people and have nothing left to give to yourself. Be selective about your time.
If you have bipolar disorder, you can still enjoy the holiday season. I know this list seems like a whole lot of “don’t do this, don’t do that.”
But think of it this way: you deserve to be healthy. You deserve to protect yourself and your hard-won stability. You don’t deserve to suffer from a manic spiral or a pit of depression.
Treat yourself in the way you deserve to be treated. Don’t drink to excess (or at all, if you can manage), try not to obsess over gifts, and practice self-care. With these tools in your belt, you can survive and even thrive this holiday season.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder thirteen years ago, I had no idea what what that meant.
I have a chronic mental illness? What does that mean for the rest of my life? I thought.
I wished that I had someone to guide me, someone who had survived and thrived with their own bipolar disorder and could help me understand what this truly meant for me and my family.
I have been stable–and happy!–for about seven years, so I am glad to share my experience with others in the hopes of helping them. Here are the 5 things I wish someone would have told me when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
1. It Gets Better
This is the most important item on the list. Facing down an alarming diagnosis and a years-long recovery from my postpartum psychotic break, I desperately needed to hear “it gets better.”
After the break, I spent years nearly-dying in the black pit that is depression. I could not care for my infant son, leaving dirty diapers on the living room floor for weeks because I couldn’t summon the wherewithal to pick them up. Even when he aged into preschool, I was still fighting to survive.
If I had someone tell me that I would eventually come out whole and healed on the other side, I don’t know if I would have believed them at the time, but I would have looked back with gratitude.
Telling someone in the midst of a bad situation “it gets better” can help them, especially when you yourself have lived through a similar situation. If you can expound upon how you survived your own challenges, even better.
2. You May have Mixed Feelings About Your Diagnosis
When I was given the label of “bipolar disorder,” I was by turns both devastated and elated:
Devastated because I had no idea what being bipolar would mean for me and my family. Elated because I finally had a label that made sense.
The label explained so much about my behaviors until that point. I wanted to tell everyone I’d ever met that I had bipolar disorder–an impulse in the midst of a manic episode that my husband gently cautioned me against.
I found myself vacillating between utter despair at the fact that I had a mental illness that would never go away and happiness at the fact that I could start working towards recovery with a targeted approach.
You may feel mixed feelings about your diagnosis. Your feelings, whatever they are, are valid, and they don’t change your inherent value as a person. Feel whatever emotions you feel, accept them, and move on.
3. Your Meds are Crucial for Recovery
When I was first diagnosed, I had a difficult time remembering to take my medication. But once my psychiatrist prescribed me the right ones, I found that when I took my pills–and took them on time–I stabilized rather quickly.
Bipolar disorder is no joke. Many people, especially those of us with Bipolar I, cannot manage their condition without psychiatric care. I know I can’t; without my anti-psychotic and anti-depressant, I would be in a very dark place.
I wouldn’t wish my depression on anyone. Without my medication, I would not have recovered. Thankfully, with a combination of medication that works for me and talk therapy, I have been stable for years.
Take your meds. They’re there to help you. Taking medication doesn’t make you weak; quite the opposite. It’s the first step towards stabilization; the first step towards healing. No one looks down on a diabetic for taking insulin, and bipolar meds are the same: life-saving.
4. Be Honest with Your Family About Your Diagnosis
Being honest with your family about your diagnosis is probably one of the hardest parts of being diagnosed. You now have a label that carries with it a certain amount of stigma.
Like me, your family will be confused about what a chronic mental illness means for them. Hopefully they’ll want to support you in this new journey of yours.
If I hadn’t been honest with my husband, my biggest supporter, he would not have been able to respond in an appropriate manner to my bipolar mood episodes. Whether it was hypomania, mania, or depression, my episodes are dangerous to my family, as I can’t concentrate on anything but my moods and whims.
So communicating honestly with him, though extremely difficult at the beginning, became easier and easier as time went on.
Tell your family about your diagnosis. If you don’t let them in on what challenges you’re facing, they will never understand what your diagnosis means for you and for them.
5. Try to Find Cheerleaders
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder thirteen years ago, my husband and I had just graduated college and moved 1500 miles away from our friends and family. I’d also given birth to our first child six days prior.
I had no new friends in the area we lived, and I felt alone facing my diagnosis. Making friends proved extremely difficult, but I wouldn’t trade the supporters I have now, who cheer me on through my various challenges, for the world. They have helped me handle my struggles with grace and gladness.
Finding a cheerleader or two is so important when you’re facing a diagnosis, especially if they’ve been in your shoes and can understand what you’re going through.
If you have existing friends willing to help you, that’s excellent! But if you feel truly alone, immerse yourself in groups of potentially-supportive people.
You can find these people online through Discord (a chatting service) servers centered around a common interest, like a show. Or you can attend support groups online or in-person, or ask your doctor what they recommend.
Relationship building takes a ton of effort and you may be overwhelmed, especially if you’re depressed. But your friends will be so worth it.
Dealing with a diagnosis like bipolar disorder may feel daunting. You may feel utterly overwhelmed, especially if you’re newly-diagnosed.
I’m here to offer suggestions and reassure you that yes, it gets better. Your possibly mixed feelings about your diagnosis are valid. Take your meds, be honest with your family, and try to find cheerleaders.
Your recovery and stabilization from bipolar disorder may take years. And that’s okay. Keep fighting the good fight. You’ve got this.
Are you sensitive to temperature, textures, or noises? Are you easily frightened, especially when people come up behind you? Do you absorb the emotions of everyone else in the room and find it difficult to regulate your own in the face of all the chaos?
In her 1997 book, The Highly Sensitive Person, psychologist Elaine Aron coined the term HSP to describe the 15-20% of people whose brains are markedly different from others. Highly sensitive people have something called “the sensory sensitivity processing trait,” which basically means their brains let in more information from their environment and they process things faster and more deeply, even subconsciously.
People with this trait often live their lives being bothered by experiences that others don’t even notice. Things like the pressure of sitting on a chair that’s not too hard for anyone else, shivering in a room said to be temperate for others, or deeply feeling someone else’s anger or distress.
And research has proven that being an HSP is a genetic trait, like eye color or hair. You feel things more deeply because your brain is wired differently.
Who else feels things more deeply because their brains are wired differently? Why, people with bipolar disorder, of course.
The Link Between HSPs and Bipolar Disorder
Not all HSPs have bipolar disorder and not all people with bipolar disorder are HSPs. Being highly sensitive is not a mental illness like bipolar disorder is, and cannot be treated by any current class of medication. Nor does being an HSP cause mental illness.
But if you are a highly sensitive person, overstimulation from your environment can trigger a bipolar mood episode.
Because their brains let in more information, both people with bipolar disorder and HSPs are extremely vulnerable to stress. The brains of both types of people–and especially if you are a HSP with bipolar disorder–have difficulties filtering out stimuli. Researchers call this “leaky sensory gating,” which means that HSPs and people with bipolar disorder can easily become overwhelmed by loud noises, temperature, or other people’s emotions.
This is a huge source of stress, which is a known trigger for depression, mania, and anxiety.
I should know. Being an empathic HSP with bipolar disorder, I frequently suck up the emotions of other people in the room and have difficulty separating my own feelings from everyone else’s.
For example, when my son is upset, I experience the distress with him in not only emotional symptoms, but physical. My chest constricts, my throat closes, and my shoulders and back with pain. And I feel an intense amount of pain and anxiety in my brain. I can’t concentrate on anything else, and I spiral down deep into negative thoughts.
And these symptoms last for hours. Once, my son and I got into a fight. He grew upset with me, and I was upset with him but also upset because he was upset. We talked out the problem, solved it, and ten minutes later, he had forgiven me and came back to show me a meme that he had laughed at.
But I was still upset–not because of my own anger, but because of his–for four hours afterwards. It wasn’t until I’d done some self-care that I was able to calm down and separate myself from his emotions.
Due to thinning gray matter in certain brain regions, people with bipolar disorder have difficulty regulating their emotions and inhibitions. An HSP with bipolar disorder who absorbs emotion and has difficulty separating other people’s feelings from mine own, I have found it very difficult to calm down after conflicts.
According to the International Bipolar Foundation, people with bipolar disorder also have more difficulty recovering from events and situations that cause stress. So as a person with bipolar disorder, is it any surprise that my fight with my son bothered me so much?
Experiencing other people’s emotions in this way has caused untold amounts of anxiety for me, and I have only just identified this as a trigger for my depressive and manic episodes. Realizing there was a link between bipolar disorder and highly sensitive people was a lightbulb moment.
Highly sensitive people tend to be called to helping professions, and I am no different. In August of 2022, I plan to earn a graduate degree in counseling with the aim of becoming a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). I am hoping that my professors will be able to train me to manage my own emotions separate from other people’s.
And it’s not just others’ emotions that hurt me. As an HSP with bipolar disorder, I also find myself distressed by physical experiences that others have no problem with. For example, I feel freezing cold at temperatures like 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) and sweat at 75 degrees F (28 degrees C). My husband thinks I’m too sensitive–which, surprise! I am!
3 Tips to Help You Handle Being an HSP with Bipolar Disorder
Do you believe you are a HSP with bipolar disorder? Then read on for three tips on how to handle the stress of being one.
1. Take Responsibility
If you are an HSP with bipolar disorder, you may think that your emotions are out of control and the world around you must help you manage them.
Don’t think that. While your friends and family might be willing to accommodate your sensitivities if you communicate effectively with them, the only person who can manage your emotions is you.
You need to take responsibility for your own wellbeing. You make your own happiness. While you may feel more deeply than everyone else, you are also capable of managing those feelings through a regime of self-care and self-love. Think about including talk therapy and/or medication in your regime as well, as those are things you can do to take care of yourself that only you can do.
Owning my own feelings will be difficult, but I believe that with the help of my therapist and my practicing self-care, I will be able to finally separate myself from others and manage my brain. Identifying where the problems are is half the battle, so I’m well on my way!
I hope that this tip empowers you rather than daunts you. I don’t mean to say that your overstimulation is in any way your fault. But you have a quirk of the brain that other people just do not have, and you are capable of managing it.
2. Learn Your Triggers
Learning what bothers you or sends you into a self-destructive spiral will help you avoid or manage those triggers. Whether it’s a TV that’s on too loudly or negative self-talk, figure out what bothers you the most and try to fix the problem or distract yourself from it.
One of my triggers is loud noises. As a result, I constantly wear noise-cancelling headphones streaming music of my choice from my phone. Research shows that music lights up the reward centers of the brains of HSPs in extreme ways, so as long as I have my soothing music on, I can ride the high.
3. Communicate Your Needs
Speaking up about your needs is one of the best ways to cope with stress as an HSP. If you ask your friends and family to stop doing that one thing that irritates you, and they do, that’s one less thing to stress out your already-overwhelmed brain.
I plan to ask my son not to wear headphones when he’s watching YouTube videos. The distraction is so great that I can’t focus on anything else. I hope that he will be willing to accommodate me, and I believe that the request is reasonable enough that he will.
If you are an HSP with bipolar disorder, you must take care of yourself. I am only just learning how to deal with the stress of being one of the 20% of people in the world who are highly sensitive.
Start by taking responsibility for your own care. Be proactive about managing your triggers. And communicate your needs effectively.
The more you recognize what stresses you out and why and take steps to solve those problems, the healthier you will be.
When tiny people suck up all of your available time, energy, and mental headspace or when your teenager butts heads with you and you’re just exhausted afterwards, then that is the time for self-care.
Every parent should know the importance of self-care, defined as, “the practice of taking action to improve one’s health.” Without filling your own tanks, there’s no way you can be a present parent and fill the tanks of your children. If you allow your kids to drain your batteries day after day, you’ll end up collapsing. You’ll be burnt out, unable to meet even the most basic needs of your children—or yourself.
I know that you might not think that you have time for self-care. But you need to make time, if not for yourself, then for the sake of your children. I know that when I don’t prioritize taking care of myself, I end up snapping at my kids and damaging their emotional health. I don’t want to be that parent, so I put my own oxygen on mask first, to use the metaphor.
Here are a few self-care ideas specifically tailored to parents with busy lives.
1. Go on a Nature Walk
Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce anxiety and improve your well-being. Take a walk around a forest, go to a park and step barefoot on the grass, or visit the coast, if you can. The best part is that you can bring your kids with you. They’ll benefit from a walk around greenery as much as you, which will mean they’ll be a lot calmer in the afternoons if you go in the morning. I know an outing requires a bit of advanced planning, but you can handle this.
I like taking to my 4-year-old daughter to the park as often as I can, both so she can run around with other kids and I can soak up some sunshine. We go in the mornings and return home before lunch. Spending time in nature is easier when your kids are in the sweet spot between infant (when going out is difficult) and pre-teen (when they’re not interested). But even if your kids aren’t 4-6, when they like parks the best, try to go out anyways. Your kids deserve a happier parent and walking around in nature is one of the best ways to buoy your mood.
2. Play Your Favorite Song
One way to improve your mental state almost immediately is to play your favorite song. If you have a bumpin’ playlist, even better. Crank up the speakers and have a dance party with your kids. They’ll enjoy wiggling around with you and you’ll all get some exercise in, which means naptime may be easier.
My husband gifted me a pair of Bluetooth headphones, on which I listen to music all day long. I keep one ear uncovered so I can play pretend games with my preschooler and discuss more advanced topics with my preteen son. I listen to Pandora radio, a streaming service, on my phone, and I have stations I’ve curated to match my mood and activities—fast, electronica music for cleaning, classic rock for everyday listening, and soft acoustic guitar when I’m anxious and need to calm down.
3. Engage Your Sense of Smell
Your sense of smell is tied to mood; if you smell rotten eggs or cat urine, that can ruin your day, whereas smelling sandalwood, the favored scent of your beloved aunt, can help improve your outlook. To engage your sense of smell, light a scented candle (after the kids have gone to bed), rub some perfume on your wrists, or open a bottle of vanilla extract and take a whiff. Smelling something good can help you recenter yourself during or after a busy day of child-rearing.
I love smells. My sniffer is super, so I love inhaling good scents as much as I can. When my son bakes bread, I love spending time in the kitchen with him just to get a blast of the aroma of yeasty goodness. I absolutely crack open a vanilla bottle on occasion.
4. Grab Some ZZZs
If you can, try to get some extra sleep. Studies have shown that the benefits of sleep are legion. Every parent understands the importance of sleep, especially parents of newborns and small children. Researchers recommend sleeping at least seven hours a night so your body and brain have time to reset themselves.
If your kids still take naps, nap with them. And even though it’s tempting to burn the midnight oil to get some alone time, try to snuggle under the covers before 11pm, as according to studies sleep before 12am is the most restorative. If you have a trusted family friend, ask them to watch your children for you for a couple of hours so you can grab some ZZZs.
I was actually falling asleep at the breakfast table today, and my husband happened to be home to take care of the kids. He told me to go take a nap, which I did, and I felt loads better afterwards.
As a woman with bipolar disorder, sleep hygiene is key to my mental health. Without sleep, I trip into mania, after which there’s always a crash, and that’s no good for anyone, especially me. I guard my sleep with the fierceness of Cerberus. If I’m too busy to sleep before 12am one night, I absolutely try to crash at 9-10pm the next few days. And when my daughter did nap, I slept with her.
Good sleep is essential.
5. Practice Good Hygiene
Most parents understand the appeal of a hot shower. (Those who don’t, you don’t know what you’re missing!) There’s just something relaxing about standing under the spray and letting your cares wash down the drain along with any grime you’ve gathered during a hard day of childcare. But what if you don’t have time to take a shower? What if your “shift” isn’t over for a few hours?
Well, the answer, my friend, is sponge baths. Rinse a washcloth in the sink and wipe down your face and arms. Scrub your kiddos’ face while you’re at it, and you’ll both feel better. If you find yourself with an abundance of time, brush your teeth. A clean mouth will help you feel like you can take on the world.
In the heat of the summer, nothing feels better than a bit of cool water on my face. I love dragging a cold, wet rag over my cheeks and forearms and even applying some extra deodorant, all of which takes less than five minutes. Even in fall and winter, when temperatures plummet, a warm, damp washcloth can heat up my face and make me feel great.
6. Eat a Snack
Snacking benefits more than just your kids; eating a small amount of food between lunch and dinner can sustain your energy levels. A snack can keep you from the 3 o’clock grogginess that’s so common in afternoons of child wrangling. A snack can provide more nutrients in your diet. And a snack can even help prevent binge eating. If you don’t have allergies, try eating some nuts, a piece of fruit, a piece of cheese, some sugar snap peas, or even a 1oz piece of dark chocolate.
Earlier today, I was feeling lower than low. I was tired and snappish and mindlessly scrolling through my phone while my daughter ate her daily snack after lunch, yogurt with graham crackers. She chattered with me, perky as ever, and I realized that my energy had dipped because I’d had a light lunch and I needed a snack, too. So I pulled a yogurt of my own out from the fridge and ate with her. That bit of food was enough to perk me up and help me take on the rest of the day.
When you find your energy flagging, your brain slowing down, and your patience thinning, it’s time for some self-care. Self-care is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity. Without self-care, you’ll end up drained and likely not the parent you want to be.
Going on a nature walk, playing your favorite song, engaging your sense of smell, grabbing some ZZZs, practicing good hygiene, and/or eating a snack can help you feel better.
So try some of these strategies today! You don’t have anything to lose!