Here's the truth. Sometimes I fib. I turn down invitations and say that I'm busy. I am busy, but not in the way that most people may understand. I'm busy tending to my own equilibrium in any way that I can. I'm busy silencing the racing thoughts; busy sitting in complete solitude to calm my irrational fears; busy feeling my feelings so that they won't erupt in impulsive ways. Sometimes this is indeed my 'busy'.
Among the challenges faced by many of us living with mental illness are the numerous trigger situations in our daily lives that can possibly exacerbate symptoms and lead to potential set-backs. As an individual with bipolar disorder, I've found it beneficial to proactively rely on several self-protective methods that can help to offset the impact of potential symptom triggers.
Although collectively, we may represent a wide range of mental illness diagnoses, and an even broader range of individual symptoms to manage, my hope is that this list of strategies that help me to guard against some symptom triggers may be helpful to you as well as a possible template to create your own plan.
Why bother? I find that caring for yourself in a way that helps you to go in the direction that you want to go toward with a proactive plan feels empowering, and often results in solid progress. Self-care equals self-respect in my book; something that is often in short supply when you're living through a difficult time trying to deal with symptoms and their wide-reaching effects. I like to think of self-care not as self-indulgence, but as self-preservation, which is always worth my effort.
Here are several strategies that I've established in my life to address a range of triggers that can cause mood dysregulation, veering from the lows of depression to manic highs.
- Calm, Organized Home: Since clutter and general disorganization feels chaotic to me, it can trigger anxiety and mood escalation. Keeping our home simple, open, and clutter-free has a soothing effect.
- Routines and Structure: Having predictable routines and plenty of structure built into each day can offer a sense of control that can help to keep anxiety and fear at bay.
- Music: Classical or soft music played throughout the day is calming for me, and can offset periods of racing thoughts and impulsiveness.
- Minimal Exposure to TV News, Social Media: I choose to stay informed about local and national news by reading newspapers so that I have control over the pace and content. Listening to the barrage of news on TV or social media can bring on feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
- Daily Outdoor Workouts: As a long-distance runner and competitive athlete, this one is both easy and necessary for me. By working toward ongoing goals of upcoming races, I set myself up with year-round challenges and a sense of purpose and accomplishment, all of which help with mood regulation.
- Consistent Sleep Routine: This piece is vital for my daily life, as becoming overly fatigued can quickly spiral into mood imbalances for me. By making sleep a top priority, I set myself up to feel rested, calm and nurtured, complete with a soothing sound machine, eye mask, scented pillow sprays and soft bedding.
- Carefully Selected Circle of Friends/Acquaintances: This ongoing process to consciously funnel down the people that I spend time with to include only those who I respect, value and love has been very beneficial. It's nothing short of wonderful to be surrounded by individuals with open, positive and understanding attitudes towards life in general.
- Daily Dose of Solitude: Committing to even five minutes of quiet solitude every day offers me a solid dose of calm and perspective while also giving me the opportunity to reflect on my intentions for the day.
- Volunteering: This one falls under the category of 'When you don't know what to do for yourself, do something for someone else'. There are so many opportunities to be part of something bigger than ourselves and every single one I've chosen over the years has been enormously beneficial for me in a wide variety of ways.
- Self-Soothing Strategies: When things get precarious, I have a tried and true group of strategies that I find nurturing and centering. The simplicity of enveloping myself in soft textures (blankets, fabrics, sweaters, etc.) with a good book and an even better mug of coffee always delivers. Aromatherapy (soaps, lotions, pillow sprays, etc.) also offers up an instant sense of calmness, and being cared for.
- Self- Advocate: Knowledge is power, and by staying up to date on current research and new treatment developments for mental illness, I'm able to address feelings of isolation or hopelessness and feel confidant that I can be my own self-advocate if the need arises.
Anticipating symptom triggers and creating a plan to help to guard against them does indeed involve time, work and effort, all of which can keep you 'busy'. Investing in self-knowledge and self-care however, offers us ongoing health benefits throughout our lifetime. What's not to love?
I believe that some types of wisdom have to be earned. I know I've earned some of my own along the way, and I'm quite sure that each of you have done so as well. So...Wisely revel in your own care, while always giving thought to these timeless words ~
"Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen carefully."
~ (Little Foot's Mother, Land Before Time) ~
Written by Pam Landry