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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Bipolar Mood Swings? 4 Steps to Nip Them in the Bud

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 23rd 2009

If you or someone you love suffers from Bipolar Disorder, you are intimately aware of the mood swings that can occur. Little triggers get set off that start spiral downward toward depression or upward toward hypomania or mania. Using a mindfulness approach or cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness of how this works can help you gain greater confidence in your ability to nip the mood swing in the bud when you notice the initial triggers and sustain a great sense of stability and freedom.

Here are 4 steps to take to nip these mood swings in the bud:

  1. Get to know your triggers - Make a list of what your subtle triggers are. Do you notice subtle changes in your sleep patterns that are leaning toward an episode? Too much sleep may drop you into depression, too little sleep can lean toward mania. Are automatic negative thoughts visiting more often than usual tipping you off to depression visiting or maybe grandiose thoughts start to creep in associated more with mania. Maybe you're being more consistently irritable. Maybe you're noticing more tiredness or excessive energy.

  2. Nonjudgment - It's important to get in the practice of not judging your initial reactions to these triggers as good, bad, right, or wrong. All we're doing here is getting to know the cycle that leads to depression or mania. We have to cultivate the awareness before we can intervene. Judging our experience can lead to an all day event of beating ourselves up that only makes things worse and spiral us one way or the other. It's a trap!

  3. Present Moment - When you notice a trigger happening, the first thing to do is come down from the worries for the future or ruminations of the past and back into the present. It is only in the present moment that we can make a change. One way to do that is with the STOP technique.

  4. Effectiveness - Here is where we make a list of strategies to help us in these moments. Maybe the best thing to do if you notice manic triggers is go to bed or if you're in the middle of a task late at night, to stop and come back to it later. Maybe you can choose to meditate or take a walk out of the house. If depressive triggers are visiting, engage in things that give you a sense of pleasure or achievement. The purpose here is to nip the trigger in the bud before it turns into and episode.

This practice is best understood as just that, a practice. So when you pick up a guitar for the first time, you're not meant to be a rock star, but rather it may be pretty challenging at first, but over time, you get better at it. That is exactly what this is. If it is difficult or you find that you didn't catch the triggers in time, practice the nonjudgment again as best as possible and continue to redirect your attention toward greater awareness and intervention time and time again.

Ofcourse, it is often helpful to be working with a skilled healthcare professional.

Have compassion for yourself during this process and thank yourself each time you engage in a practice that in line with your greater health and well-being.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.  

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Insufficiently Noble - Tiffany - Oct 1st 2012

Hello.  I think your intentions in writing this are very noble.  However, as a sufferer from BPD and more, I realize that the tool kit and steps listed in the article are insufficent for me.  When I am manic a/o leading up to that state, I easily brush all "positive things I'm taught to do" aside. When I am approaching a depressive state, or am in one, I have lost interest in everything; therefore, I have no desire to follow any set of instructions that may help me.  Part of my mind recognizes many helpful suggestions and advice, but there is a stronger pull that tends to ignore these well intentioned strategies.  

Thankfully, I am on two mood stabilizers and an anxiety medication, along with counseling, that help me maintain some sense of stability.  I am unable to take anti-depressants.  

I appreciate the efforts of all to help the BPD sufferers.  I know that it's like chasing one's own tail, but with everyone's combined knowledge, perhaps one day we will have the magic cure.

Bipolar - Ary - Apr 10th 2011

I have suffer depression from a young age and I know that I have a bipolar disorder... One minute I'm happy and next I snap. I really want to change that 'cuase It's really affecting my relationship with people...I think this has to do with people that have been around me and try to hurt me one way or another and just don't trust anymore. And I just don't socialize with people just because I'm afraid of how they will hurt me again...If I still talk to someone that has hurt me in some way I'm ok a minute and the next I will be yelling at that person why I'm the way I am with him/her...

Depression and thinking.. - Carol - Aug 11th 2009

When you are depressed, your mind does not "see" anything or anyone or any activity as "enjoyable".  So I don't understand how a person can use their mind to "do" something that gives one "pleasure".  It's all blackness, there is no way to think or see "pleasure".....Do you understand that?  I understand that. 

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