I can only imagine what you must be thinking as you scrolled past the topic of today’s post. How is this even possible? Who would dare try and manage their mental health issues without prescription medication? Is this person a lunatic? I’ve experienced this reaction from the vast majority of my friends, family, and psychologists over the years. Some of which have even gone to the extent of labeling me “irresponsible” or “misguided” (which I let upset me for far too long). So how exactly have I managed to stay sane, healthy, and functional to this day without the use of prescription medication? Let me tell you.
It’s no secret that rest and relaxation are vital in maintaining a clear and stable state of mind. For those of you out there who are far too familiar with the day to day brain fog associated with your bipolar, I hear you! I’ve spent hours upon hours in a foggy haze, desperately trying to appear “normal” and “happy” like everyone else. It’s exhausting. And what is the most effective method to curb exhaustion? Sleep! Catching up on some zzzzz’s allows your body the time it needs to recharge and repair itself. Similar to those who work in the fitness industry and prioritize sleep to repair their muscles, I use sleep to repair my brain. Because bipolar causes cognitive and neurological impairments, our bodies need more rest than the average person. It’s all about finding a balance. Most of my friends with bipolar tend to stick to one end of the spectrum, either sleeping so much that they end up missing out on important events and responsibilities, or, not getting enough sleep and unintentionally sending themselves into a state of psychosis. These are the realities of someone struggling with bipolar.
Statistically women in-particular require more sleep than men. The reason for this is simply because our bodies are designed to procreate. With that being said; mental health impacts both the male and female body equally. Neurological dysfunction wreaks havoc on our bodies emotionally of course, so much at times we are unaware of the physical and mental damage simultaneously taking place. Rest assured, (pun intended) you can limit your exposure of unwanted side effects by winding down early every night to recharge. There is no magic number suitable for everyone which is why I’ve based my daily requirement on how my body feels. For me this is between 7.5 to 9 hours.
Sweat Baby Sweat!
I’m sure if you’re the average millennial you’ve spent countless hours scrolling through your Instagram feed feeling utterly lazy and unaccomplished. We’ve all been there. It is impossible to escape the hype revolving around the fitness industry these days, especially when we’ve been brainwashed into documenting every bit of progress along the way! This isn’t always a bad thing; especially if you’re working your butt off to achieve your dream body (or booty for my ladies out there). But I’ll let you in on a little secret, it’s not all about the aesthetics! Of-course when we look good we naturally exude more confidence and feel great. Why is this? Because our body is creating endorphins which affect our nervous system and psychological functions. Ever heard someone refer to a “runner’s high”?
One thing to note about exercising when you’re someone with bipolar disorder, there is the right work out available to you whether you are manic or depressed. Finding this balance is vital to achieving overall mental and physical health! For example, if I’m feeling excitable and hyper it might not be the most responsible choice to slam back my pre-workout and hit the gym. Intense workouts get our adrenaline pumping which can cause problems if our brain is already on overdrive. Something more suitable might be a yoga or stretch class. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class you know how therapeutic it can be to become one with your breath, ground yourself, and feel all of your stress and anxiety melt away.
On the other hand, if you have been in an endless love affair with your bed and the mere thought of doing anything other than nothing is exhausting to think about, the gym is most likely exactly what you need! Hear me out. The longer you lay around becoming engrossed in your unstable and all-consuming thoughts, the worse you feel. Getting there is half the battle but I can assure you you won’t regret it. Crush those weights! Go for that run! Ride your bike around town and embrace the sheer feeling of being alive! If that isn’t enough to get you going, try to think of it as an internal challenge. Another obstacle you’ll overcome despite your beautiful bipolar brain.
Did Someone say Snacks?
Let’s jump right into this one shall we. Food = medicine. Everything we put in our bodies throughout the day directly impacts our ability to function optimally. Prior to Western Medicine humanity relied solely on the medicinal properties of plants. In my opinion, there is no reason we can’t continue to treat ourselves naturally without having to suffer through the daunting side effects of prescription medication. It IS possible!
We’ve been taught throughout our lives that “everything in moderation” is an acceptable way to gauge our overall health. I strongly disagree with this statement. Why? Because there are just some foods we should never put into our bodies…ever! Some examples of these inflammatory trigger foods are refined sugar, dairy, soy, corn products, caffeine, and alcohol. For the average person these foods can cause a number of health concerns; for someone with bipolar the effects can be much more crippling. Think about it this way, if our bodies have to work ten times harder to digest foods that have been genetically modified over the years and are full of hormones and/or stimulants, it only makes sense that these toxins will wreak havoc on our gut. Which leads me to the most blowing statistic I’ve ever stumbled upon…are you ready for it? 90% of our bodies serotonin is created in the gut! Are you as shocked as I was my first time hearing this? 90%! That is a huge portion of our “happy chemical” being produced straight out of our tummy. By compromising our gut health there is infact a direct correlation to our serotonin production, or lack thereof. So why not fuel ourselves with whole, organic, grass-fed foods and eliminate our exposure to toxins so harmful they actually have the ability to change our brain chemistry?
Use your Words
This may seem silly and even blatantly obvious but communication is just as important, (if not more so) than any of the above coping strategies! Without the ability to openly communicate how we are feeling and where these feelings have derived from, we are left to internalize our unhealthy thoughts. As many of you know, this can lead to a downwards spiral of negativity. Or worse, self-harm. By choosing to keep everything buried deep down inside we are left with nothing other than our own minds to keep us company. For me, this has proven time and time again to be a very dangerous and self destructive coping mechanism.
I’m not saying you need to rush out and find a therapist to pour out your deepest, darkest secrets. If seeing a therapist or psychologist is helpful for you by all means make an appointment! Effective communication skills start with the people we are closest to and see on a day to day basis. Whether this means our family, friends, partner, or neighbours, we owe it to ourselves and our sanity to build healthy lines of communication in all areas of our lives. Having a bad day? Talk to your siblings or your boyfriend about it. Be as genuine and authentic as you possibly can in terms of where you are at mentally. This will allow both of you to come up with a solution or strategy. Make sure to set boundaries prior to the conversation if you know what your triggers are. This is key! The last thing anyone wants is for you to end up even more upset than you were beforehand.
An outside perspective can be a blessing when we are struggling to keep our head above water ,but it can also send us off the deep end if we become defensive and closed minded. Try to remind yourself that it is ok to be vulnerable, sad, hopeless, or even downright angry. How we choose to react to conflicts ultimately defines the type of people we become. For someone with bipolar this is easier said than done. Once our emotions take over there is no telling what we are capable of. My best piece of advice when it comes to communication is to learn to forgive yourself. If the only way you know how to get your feelings across is by screaming at someone, be it a loved one or a stranger, remind yourself that these actions don’t label you as a bad person. Take some time to reflect on your behaviour and ask yourself how you would handle it differently next time. If you owe someone an apology for treating them poorly, set your ego and guilt aside and apologize. You don’t have to apologize for the way you feel, but you should at least try and apologize for your outburst because at the end of the day that IS something you can control.
So there you have it. 4 natural coping mechanisms for managing your Bipolar without the use of prescription medications! I sincerely hope that you have found these methods useful in some way or another. If you are just starting out or considering implementing even 1 of the 4 methods mentioned above, I encourage you to take a step back and allow yourself to feel overwhelmed or uneasy. Change can be scary and it certainly isn’t easy. The only way you will be able to gauge your overall success is by implementing small changes to your daily routine. You may be surprised at what you are capable of by simply starting your journey towards recovery!
Beautiful Train Wreck