What Stress in Bipolar Feels Like and What to Do About It

January 17, 2019 Natasha Tracy

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In bipolar disorder, stress is a problem. This is not to suggest that stress can't be a problem for anyone, but stress can actually worsen the symptoms of bipolar disorder and decrease stability so it's something we with bipolar really have to be concerned about. Read about how stress feels in bipolar disorder and what you can do about it.

Stress and Bipolar Disorder

I've written before that stress and bipolar disorder don't mix and overall, I'd say that's the moral of the story. But, of course, we all have stress in our lives and sometimes no matter what we do, we can't avoid stress. That's why it's important to be conscientious of stress and its effects on bipolar disorder.

What Does Stress Feel Like in Bipolar Disorder?

Of course, different people experience stress in bipolar disorder differently, but when I'm experiencing stress, here are some of the things I notice:

  1. My anxiety (and all that anxiety includes) increases.
  2. I overestimate the real impact of what the stress is about.
  3. I think less clearly.
  4. I tend to think in circles. I think thing one, thing two, thing three, thing one, thing two, the three, thing one, ad nauseam, not pausing long enough on any one thing to make any headway.
  5. Sometimes my brain stops thinking altogether.
  6. Difficulty breathing.
  7. Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do to the point of being incapacitated.
  8. I get irritable.
  9. My sleep is negatively affected.
  10. I get tired and fatigued.
  11. My depression symptoms or my hypomania symptoms flare up. Sometimes it's one and sometimes it's the other.

And overall, my life's progress tends to grind to a halt while I feeling like a hamster in a wheel trying to get the above under control.

What to Do About the Feelings of Stress in Bipolar Disorder

So, understanding that stress and bipolar disorder can incapacitate me, there are things I need to do to try to fight it.

  1. I fight the feelings of anxiety by trying to create a calming environment up to and including meditating.
  2. I take a step back and use a critical eye to reevaluate what is stressing me out to stop myself from inflating its effect.
  3. I slow my thoughts down and often talk myself through my thoughts.
  4. I think about one thing and then take a deep breath, wait for a few seconds and then go back to that thing very purposefully.
  5. I take a break. Sometimes the best thing to do to renew my brain is nothing. I often lie down with my eyes closed during this time.
  6. I become mindful of my breath. I slow down my breaths and deepen them on purpose. I often blow the breath out through my mouth.
  7. I break things down into small parts and then make lists of those tasks. It's simple but it helps when evaluating what to do and how important each task is.
  8. I remind myself that stress alters my mood. It's not the fault of the people around me. I admit to being irritable and take responsibility for it. That often allows me to control it better.
  9. I may take different sleep medication. (For others relaxation exercises might work.)
  10. I sleep. (This isn't wise for everyone as sleeping during the day can negatively affect your circadian rhythm.) If you can't sleep, then rest. (It can take days to recover from a very stressful situation.)
  11. I talk to my doctor and tell him exactly what is going on. We may change my medications for the short- or the long-term. Remember, this is really important to try to maintain whatever stability you have or to not sabotage your stability in the future.

And most importantly, I try to avoid beating myself up for feeling stressed out and/or not getting "enough" done. Yes, I would love it if a stressful event occurred and I could just absorb it. I would love it if during a stressful period I could output work like a bunny. But I can't do those things so I have to remember grace and forgiveness and be gentle with myself. If I'm taking steps to move through the stress, that's the best I can do. There's no point in making the stress and bipolar disorder worse through self-flagellation. 

What does stress and bipolar disorder feel like for you? How do you deal with it?

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2019, January 17). What Stress in Bipolar Feels Like and What to Do About It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 21 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

January, 27 2019 at 10:43 am

Thank you Natasha, my heart is with yours while reading your words. As a fellow sufferer of this frustrating illness, I feel it helps to talk about it and bring awareness. I have friends who aren't able to articulate what they're feeling, but I feel it's important for us to stay connected with those who can understand what we're going through.

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