Bipolar disorder triggers are stressors, or really anything, that bring on or worsen bipolar symptoms and mood episodes. People with bipolar disorder tend to be more sensitive to various stressors and triggers than people who do not have bipolar disorder. And different things trigger different people.
When I think about identifying bipolar disorder triggers, it reminds me of when my daughter got diagnosed with migraine headaches. She’s fourteen now, but when it all started she was in third grade. Because she was so young, and the phenomenon was new to her, she was unable to clearly articulate what was going on within her.
She wasn’t able to recognize her migraine until it had reached its final stage. By this time she was nauseated and vomiting.
Initially we thought she had stomach issues and attempted to treat those, even taking her to a G.I. specialist. Because that’s what we saw and what she complained of. But eventually an E.R. doctor diagnosed her with migraines and finally that nasty symptom all but stopped!
When our bipolar symptoms become severe, they take center stage and we have no choice but to dedicate all of our attention to treating them. There’s no time to look for what triggered them in the first place. But if we employ self-awareness early on, often we can identify warning signs and triggers.
Why Is It Important to Identify Your Personal Triggers?
Identifying your triggers provides you with the opportunity to eliminate triggers all together, to minimize them, or to find ways to cope with them. In turn, this may help you avoid a mood episode or reduce its severity and duration. That’s pretty empowering.
Of course there will still be times when it seems that bipolar symptoms hit us out of the bright blue sky, but over time, we grow to know ourselves and our bodies better. It takes practice. Self-awareness is key.
Common Bipolar Disorder Triggers
- Disrupted Sleep Patterns and/or Sleep Deprivation: Insomnia, jet lag, or falling out of your normal sleep/wake schedule for any reason can contribute to an increase in bipolar symptoms. Sleep deprivation can increase risks for hypomania while increased sleep can sometimes be followed by depression.
- Disruption to Routine: With bipolar being a circadian rhythm disorder, keeping a daily routine is important in order to maintain mood stability and consistent energy levels. A typical bipolar routine may consist of staying on a consistent sleep/wake schedule, taking medications at the same times daily, eating and drinking regularly, building in personal and social time, exercise, and so-on.
- Season Changes or Transitions of Any Kind: For some people, season changes bring about mood fluctuations. Winter commonly triggers depression and spring and summer commonly trigger hypomania and mania. But if a person becomes aware that this is one of their triggers, precautions can be put into place. It starts with awareness. You and your psychiatrist can develop a plan of action based on this knowledge. If you so happen to get depressed in the winter, as I tend to do, perhaps your psychiatrist may discuss with you a light therapy lamp.
- Stressful or Positive Life Events: Bad and good things, big and small, can trigger mood episodes. Like marriage, death, childbirth, the loss of a job or the beginning of a new one, moving into a new home, etc. It’s always good to work closely with a therapist while going through a life adjustment.
- Alcohol and Drug Use: Alcohol and drugs are mood-altering chemicals that carry with them the potential of interacting with prescribed medications. They can trigger depression, mania and even psychosis in some people.
- Overstimulation – from within or without: Caffeine and nicotine can be potentially triggering. As can the excitement and passion that go along with taking on a new project. Lots of noise, clutter, crowds, conflict, and/or pressure can also be triggering.
- Physical Illness can also trigger bipolar symptoms.
Identify Your Bipolar Disorder Triggers
- Practice Self-Awareness. When we’re tuned into ourselves, we’re able to notice subtleties within ourselves. Such as the early warning signs that we’re becoming triggered.
- Track Your Mood. Keeping a thorough daily mood chart will also help in identifying triggers. Make sure there is room for not only mood, but also things like the quantity and quality of sleep, and what stressors may have contributed to your mood each day (like the free printable mood tracker pictured below!)
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Warning signs are milder forms of typical bipolar symptoms and, like triggers, they vary from person-to-person. The longer you live with bipolar, the more familiar you become with its effects on you and it will become easier for you to spot warning signs. Remember, some of the warning signs may overlap.
Examples of Depression Warning Signs:
- Disrupted sleep, insomnia, or increased sleep
- Lethargy and apathy
- Decreased interest in activities you enjoy
- Desire to isolate
Examples of Hypomania/Mania Warning Signs:
- Disrupted sleep, insomnia or decreased need for sleep
- Increased energy
- Taking on new projects
- Fast, pressured speech
- Increased spending
- Increased interest in sex
10 Ways to Reduce Stress
- Minimize physical and mental clutter.
- Learn effective coping strategies
- Develop and stick to a routine.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Set boundaries.
- Maintain healthy relationships.
- Keep your finances in order.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated.
- Learn relaxation techniques.
How do you go about identifying your bipolar disorder triggers? What are some of your biggest triggers?