How Mindfulness Helps Treat Bipolar Disorder

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Friday September 4, 2020

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If you follow popular media, you probably heard the word “mindfulness” used frequently these days. This practice helps people to calm overwhelming emotions and racing thoughts by centering them in the present moment. Many psychiatrists and psychologists now use the technique as a tool in the recovery process. 

Our feelings and thoughts are intricately entwined, and changing one can help improve the other. You can use a modern form of this ancient Buddhist practice to alleviate your symptoms, whether or not you have a formal mental health diagnosis. Here’s how mindfulness helps to treat bipolar disorder and how you can get started on your inward journey. 

What Is Bipolar Disorder? 

Bipolar disorder formerly went by the name of manic depression. It’s a mental health condition marked by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs and lows. These alternating periods of euphoria and despair may occur only rarely, or they can happen several times a year. Each episode can last from weeks to months. 

During the manic or hypomanic phase, the individual may experience an exaggerated sense of well-being. They can seem wired and talk up a storm or go on marathon shopping sprees. When they crash into the depressive phase, they become sad and hopeless. They lose interest in daily activities and may sleep too much or too little. They may find themselves fatigued, and in extreme cases, they may contemplate suicide. 

How Mindfulness Impacts the Symptoms of Bipolar 

Mindfulness helps people with bipolar disorder in several ways. A recent review of 13 articles found that the practice has a positive effect on anxiety, residual depression and mood regulation. During mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), no studies showed an increase in manic symptoms, suggesting that the technique has few, if any, adverse effects. 

Another study examined patients who also underwent MBCT. At the beginning of the study, the ten participants had significantly lower cognitive function than their normative peers. After the 12-week study period, all participants showed substantial improvements in functioning. They also demonstrated a decrease in manic symptoms, although researchers did not consider reductions in depression scores compelling. 

When you have bipolar disorder, your emotions can crash into you, not like waves, but full-on tsunamis. It can seem challenging to behave appropriately because your feelings are so strong. Mindfulness can help you identify and label your sensory perceptions and slow down and evaluate the best course before acting. 

Suggested Mindfulness Activities for Treating Bipolar

If you want to try mindfulness, either to enhance your bipolar disorder therapy or to treat symptoms independently, here are several activities you can do. 

1. Do a Body Scan

You often manifest anxiety in the body — a clenched jaw, a furrowed brow and an aching back. A body scan is a mindfulness technique that draws your awareness of how your physical self manifests your emotions. To begin, sit or lie down comfortably. Take a few deep breaths as you focus your attention on the rise and fall of your chest. Imagine your belly like a balloon, inflating and deflating. 

Then, starting at your feet, observe any sensations in your body. When you find an area that feels tight or tense, take note of it and breathe. Concentrate on letting those muscles unclench with each exhalation. 

2. Use the STOP Technique 

This practice can help you anytime you feel emotions starting to overwhelm you throughout the day. The acronym stands for the following:

  • Stand up and breathe: Feel your feet grounded into the earth, and stand tall, stretching your head toward the sky. 
  • Tune into your body: Like a short body scan, identify any areas where you feel tension or pain. Also, notice any pleasant sensations. Nurture the euphoric feelings with each inhale and blow away stress as you exhale.
  • Observe: Lift your eyes and locate something in your surroundings that you find beautiful or which makes you smile. Pause and give silent thanks for it. 
  • Possibility: Ask yourself, “What is possible at this moment?” Take the best step. 

3. Try the Five Senses Exercise

In this exercise, you focus your concentration by engaging your senses. Start by naming five things that you can see, then four things that you can feel. Follow this with three things you can hear, two that you can smell and one you can taste. 

Mindfulness Is an Ideal Complementary Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Mindfulness can interrupt racing thoughts and return your focus to the present moment. Add mindfulness techniques to reap the benefits of this practice in treating bipolar disorder today. 

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