If the love of your life has a mental illness, dialing down a fast-paced lifestyle can help your partner maintain emotional equilibrium.
Bipolar disorder is a cyclical illness that is impacted by daily lifestyle choices. The following habits are healthy mental hygiene practices for anyone, and essential for someone with bipolar I or II disorder.
Routine is everything.
People with bipolar disorder thrive on routine. Wake at 6 a.m., breakfast at 6:30, a chat over coffee, a workout after work, in bed by 10 p.m. Throw a wrench in the schedule and anxiety, tension, worry and fear can creep in.
Difficulty sleeping, or a reduced need for sleep, can signal the beginning of a hypomanic or manic episode. (3) A few too many cups of coffee and a few too many nights of “just one more chapter” can become a habit that leads to a crisis.
Your willingness to turn in at a regular hour will help your partner prioritize sleep.
When traveling through time zones, maintain equilibrium with healthy meals and regular sleep. During international travel, allow for a “down” day on each end to recover.
The world is a noisy place.
Many people with bipolar disorder suffer from hyperacusis, a condition which makes normal environmental noises seem very loud. (5) Movies in the theater may be off-limits, since the person one row back reaching into his popcorn bag might as well be shaking a can full of rocks.
At home, you may love your high-decibel action movies at full-volume surround sound, but the noise may drive your bipolar partner from the room or out the front door. Sometimes he likes music in the car, and sometimes it’s too distracting.
Loud restaurants and large parties can be overstimulating. A persone with bipolar disorder is usually a highly sensitive person or HSP, and is less able to filter out background noise. (4) It’s hard to engage in a conversation if your brain is following every conversation in the room.
Your niece’s birthday party may coincide with the new Star Wars premier and your boss’s housewarming party. If you attend all three, your partner is at risk of unraveling. Choose one, or a short burst at two events.
Shinrin-yoku, or forest medicine, as well as hikes, bike rides and downtime outside, are activities that rejuvenate rather than drain a fragile psyche.
Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption.
Alcohol is a depressant. For people with mental illness, consuming just one or two alcoholic drinks can cause a lull in mood that lasts for days and could trigger a depressive episode. (2) Alcohol is a major trigger for depression in people genetically predisposed to depression and bipolar disorder. (2)
Open the good wine on your anniversary, or the Veuve Clicquot on New Year’s Eve, but don’t plan your recreation and vacations around beer fests and wine tastings. Or abstain altogether.
Pick up the slack in a crisis.
If you are the hands-off, self-involved type with an independent streak, this may not be the relationship for you. Mental illness is cyclical. Most days your partner is likely high-functioning, in charge and organized. Some days, irritability, anxiety and obsessive thoughts may slow him or her down.
Disorganization, confusion and anxiety can make normal activities seem insurmountable. At those times, help set appointments, do more than your share at home, and offer rides to the doctor.
The bipolar person’s ideal environment may sound as stimulating as a Zen monastery. But the thrill of erratic moods, bad decisions and risk-taking that come with hypomania or mania is short-lived.
These considerations and modifications may not always be necessary, but your understanding when the need arises will go a long way towards the health of your partner and of the relationship.
Be quiet and be well.
1) Dealing Effectively with Depression and Bipolar Disorder. dbsalliance.org. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
2) Bipolar Disorder and Foods to Avoid. WebMd.com. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
3) Early recognition of psychoses and bipolar disorders. psychosis-bipolar.com. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
4) Bipolar disorder and highly sensitive people. mentalhealthtalk.info. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
5) Suprasensory Changes in Bipolar Disorder Inspire Creativity. psychiatrictimes.com. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
Reviewed November 20, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith