According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Bipolar Disorder (BPD) is classified as an Axis 1 clinical syndrome. In real terms, it is considered a mood disorder most often treated with a personally tailored regimen of drugs and may also be mitigated with behavioral therapies.
Because humans are a social species, interaction with others can often present novel challenges for individuals coping with BPD. Even with the assistance of strictly monitored medications and behavioral routines, there are triggers that can exacerbate the condition. Below, this article explores five of the most common sources for trigger experience in these individuals.
Sleep Pattern Disruption
Sleep is crucial for all complex organisms. Even fruit flies have been observed in this activity. Fruit flies, like all other species that sleep, exhibit marked changes in behavior when deprived of rest. For individuals with Bipolar Disorder, a well-regulated and consistent pattern of sleep is critical to mood stability
Atypical sleep deprivation, due to jet lag or important social activities, can trigger a hypomanic or manic phase of the disorder. This means that a person phases into the “high” gear of BPD, which is associated with adverse risk-taking behaviors, inflated senses of personal power or importance, and other potentially harmful behaviors. Conversely, too much sleep may initiate a depressive phase.
A predictable and stable routine is key to managing BPD, no matter what form it may take in an individual’s life. When unscheduled or radical changes occur in this routine, this can have negative impacts. Generally speaking, such routines include a regulated time for sleeping and waking, a structured social calendar, and generally stable work or school schedules.
When life events cause a disruption in this routine, it can trigger the onset of bipolar symptoms. If this is not immediately addressed, it may lead to a fully developed cycle typical of the disorder—either manic or depressive in nature. It’s therefor of primary importance that individuals with BPD and those in their social network take great care to maintain a general routine.
This can take a variety of forms, and ranges from a cluttered living space to excess light stimulation. In the course of everyday life, an individual with this disorder may encounter unusually saturated periods of experience—a concert, an argument between two people, an untidy home—given the nature of the disorder, this exacerbates neurological and psychological features. It can trigger a response, but the nature of that response is often unpredictable or dependent upon an individual’s particular life experience.
Whether these are physiological or psychological, internalized stressors can have an enormous impact upon the quality of life of an individual with BPD. These stressors can include sudden dietary changes, excess nicotine or caffeine consumption, hormonal imbalances or shifts in response to life needs, and even overstimulation resulting from excitement or intellectual endeavor. In a similar way, strong emotional shifts can sometimes play the role of a trigger, which is why those involved in a personal support network are encouraged to maintain a relatively stable emotional environment.
It’s Still Stress
While many life events are considered positive, they also constitute physiological or psychological stressors. For individuals who live with challenges associated with BPD, even the happiest moment holds risk. Emotional stress—such as a new relationship or the ending of one, a new job or moving house—can often stimulate a depressive response. For individuals not acquainted with the disorder, this may seem counter-intuitive. However, stress in all its forms is something that must be carefully managed by the person and their support network.
In the general scheme of things, this Axis 1 syndrome is a manageable disorder. Unlike several closely related mood disorders, BPD can be controlled with a medication and lifestyle regimen. In that light, both individuals who cope with Bipolar Disorder and those who share their lives should be encouraged to make small changes in order to support a healthy and productive lifestyle.