Many people unsuspectingly suffer from bipolar, a disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs, change in energy, activity level, inability to think clearly and inability to carry out daily tasks smoothly.
This, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), can be triggered by certain lifestyles and environmental factors, which can also aggravate the extreme highs and lows that are a hallmark of the condition, known as bipolar mood episodes.
However, bipolar mood swings are not always extreme, and according to Dr. Anand, the Director of the Mood and Emotional Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, some people experience a less severe form of mania and may not feel as if anything is wrong, making diagnosis difficult.
Depressive episodes, intense sadness or hopelessness may lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, and suicidal thoughts. There are common factors that trigger bipolar such as:
In many cases, a major life change or stressful event such as losing a loved one, having financial troubles, bad break up or a failed marriage can trigger an initial episode. A number of people undergoing divorce have a history of severe manic episodes.
The link between childbirth and bipolar disorder has been well documented in a number of scientific studies. A study published in Bipolar Disorders in 2014 found that the transition from depression to bipolar disorder was up to 18 times higher for postpartum women compared to similar studies in men and women who weren’t pregnant. The researchers concluded that women affected by depression should be closely monitored for manic symptoms after giving birth.
Medication: Some antidepressants, such as fluoxetine and sertraline, may worsen bipolar symptoms and possibly even trigger a manic episode, Dr. Anand notes. He says that people with bipolar disorder should not take antidepressants without also taking mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medication. Also, stimulants used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may also trigger a manic episode in people with bipolar disorder.
For some people with bipolar disorder, there's a seasonal pattern to mood episodes. Anand says there's some evidence that more manias occur during the spring and summer months, while more episodes of depression take place in the fall and winter. Some people, however, experience the opposite effect. Closely monitoring your symptoms during seasonal changes can help manage bipolar.
Poor sleeping patterns:
Lack of sleep is a frequent trigger of bipolar mood episodes, according to Dr. Anand. Poor sleep or a disruption of normal sleeping patterns, including jet lag, can trigger these intense mood swings. Shift workers, people who work long hours, and students who are short on sleep are all at risk for having a recurrence of a mood episode related to a lack of sleep. "In addition, travel beyond one's time zone can be another trigger for a mood episode.
Drug and alcohol use:
According to NAMI, substance abuse is common among people with bipolar disorder. Anand cautions against using drugs or alcohol to "treat" symptoms of the condition. Drinking or taking drugs, he says, can actually worsen bipolar mood swings and lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts or behaviours.
Besides keeping in mind these possible triggers, it's important to realize that episodes of bipolar disorder may occur even without a trigger. "Bipolar episodes can come out of the blue," Anand says. Still, being aware of early warning signs of an episode — such as being restless at 3 a.m. or feeling euphoric every spring — can help you work with your doctor to better manage bipolar.