Bipolar Disorder Is Much More than Mood Swings

We’ve all been the victim of mood swings. We start the day feeling great, but circumstances or current events bring our good mood crashing down into something close to depression. It happens. For more than 5.8 million American adults, dramatic mood swings are symptoms of bipolar disorder.

This mental health condition was once called manic depression. It’s characterized by extreme mood swings that can take individuals from intense bursts of creativity and activity — called mania — into sadness and depression that can be crippling. Each episode can last for days. It is a lifelong condition that can be managed with medication and psychotherapy, but it requires constant vigilance to maintain control over these dramatic shifts in mood.

It Takes Several Shapes

Graphic Representation of Bipolar Disorder

Each form of bipolar disorder is marked by unpredictable changes in mood and behavior that can be distressing to family and friends, and disruptive to everyday living. The behavior ranges from mania or hypomania (less extreme) to depression. Almost 83% of those with bipolar disorder describe it as a “severe” impairment.

  • Bipolar I disorder — Symptoms include having at least one manic episode that comes before or is followed by hypomanic or depressive episodes. The mania can sometimes trigger a psychotic episode that detaches the person from reality.
  • Bipolar II disorder — Symptoms include at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode. People with bipolar II disorder have never had a manic episode.
  • Cyclothymic disorder — Symptoms include multiple periods of hypomania and multiple periods of depressive symptoms. The depressive symptoms are less severe than major depression. These have occurred for at least two years in adults or one year in children and teenagers.

The Cause Is Unknown

Dices with Different Mood Descriptions on the Sides

Bipolar and related disorders can be triggered by remarkable levels of stress, or the use of certain drugs or alcohol. They can also be the result of a medical condition like a stroke, multiple sclerosis, or Cushing’s disease.

Yet the specific cause remains unknown. Researchers believe a number of factors — biological, environmental, psychological — play a role. Bipolar disorder typically runs in families. It’s most common when a parent or sibling has the disorder. Researchers have yet to identify the responsible gene.

It Affects Everyone

Stressed Boy

In the spring of 2020, actress, singer, and producer Selena Gomez revealed she has bipolar disorder on an Instagram show with Miley Cyrus. Gomez is just one of hundreds of celebrities, performers, artists, and athletes who have spoken publicly about their condition.

The late actress Carrie Fisher — Princess Leia from “Star Wars” — wrote candidly about her battles with bipolar disorder in her memoir, “Wishful Drinking.” “Black-ish” star Jennifer Lewis also wrote about bipolar disorder in her 2017 book, “The Mother of Black Hollywood.”

Other celebrities include Mariah Carey, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Francis Ford-Coppola, and Demi was even believed artist Frida Kahlo may have had bipolar disorder, too.

Treatment Can Help Patients Live a More Normal Life

Diagnostic Assessment Form

The worst parts of bipolar disorder happen when it’s not treated. It can be disruptive enough to cause financial, legal, or relationship trouble, depending on the behavior during episodes. Unfortunately, people can go years without receiving a proper diagnosis because symptoms resemble so many other mental health conditions. The stigma around discussing mental health also prevents people from seeking treatment.

Receiving a proper diagnosis requires a psychiatric examination and a thorough medical history. Some doctors will also ask patients to keep a “mood chart” to help track episodes.

Successful treatment of bipolar disorder often requires a combination of approaches that include:

  • Medications — These can balance a patient’s moods. They can take several weeks to take effect so it’s important to keep taking it. Finding the right medicine can also involve some trial and error. Patients must ALWAYS take their medication, even when feeling better. Skipping treatment or stopping it altogether can be dangerous and result in major manic or depressive episodes.
  • Psychotherapy — This can help patients to develop healthier views about themselves and their environment. It can also assist in improving relationships and helps with the identification of stressors and coping mechanisms to deal with them.
  • Substance abuse treatment — Having a dependency problem makes managing bipolar disorder harder.
  • Hospitalization — Dangerous behavior, suicidal thoughts, or psychotic episodes can require a trip to the hospital to help stabilize a patient’s mood.
  • Self-care — Bipolar disorder can be incredibly disruptive until it’s under control. Eating nutritious foods, limited caffeine and sugar, and getting plenty of exercise won’t cure the disorder but staying healthy will enhance the ability to cope with the side effects of the medications. Those can include nausea, fatigue, and weight gain.

If any of this sounds familiar for you or a loved one, AltaMed Behavioral Health Services can help overcome the challenges of bipolar disorder. Call (855) 425-1777 for more information.

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Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders: Know the Different Types and Symptoms

The past few months have been challenging. As a result, many of us, including children, parents, and seniors, are experiencing feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

Occasional anxiety over recent events, on top of additional personal stress, is normal. However, the feelings of anxiety caused by an anxiety disorder, do not go away and can worsen over time. These feelings of anxiety can interfere with your daily life and may be difficult to control.

Knowing the difference between normal fears or worries and anxiety disorders is important and can help you recognize them and seek treatment.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

Worried Man

Each type of anxiety disorder has its own unique symptoms:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A person with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has frequent or constant feelings of worry and anxiety about issues, such as health, work, social interactions, or everyday situations. These feelings can cause problems in areas of your life such as school, work, and social interactions. In some cases, people with GAD have experienced these feelings since childhood or adolescence, while in other cases, they may have been triggered by temporary stress.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling irritable
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tense muscles
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are periods of intense fear that can occur suddenly. Over time, they can be triggered by certain situations. A person with panic disorder has repeated and unexpected panic attacks, and often worries about when the next attack will happen.

During a panic attack, some people may experience:

  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control
  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart rate
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking

Phobia-related Disorders

A phobia is an intense fear caused by a specific object or situation. Common phobias include flying and heights, but people can develop phobias regarding almost anything. People with phobias feel fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by that situation or object. People with a phobia may:

  • Experience an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
  • Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety or dread
  • Experience immediate, intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
  • Take steps to avoid the feared object or situation

Know the Risk Factors

Anxiety Symptoms in the Hands

The risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder can vary, but some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders can include:

  • A family or genetic history of anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • Consumption of caffeine or medications (such as certain steroids or over-the-counter cold remedies) that can produce anxiety-like effects
  • Exposure to stressful and negative events in early childhood or adulthood
  • Health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias

Actions You Can Take

Video Call on Mobile Phone

While you can’t predict what will cause anxiety disorders to develop, you can take the following steps to help reduce the impact of symptoms if you are anxious:

  • Avoid alcohol or drug use since it can cause or worsen anxiety.
  • Make it a priority to get a good night’s sleep, since poor sleep quality, insomnia, or sleep deprivation may increase your risks.
  • Our social interactions have been limited during the last few months but talking with friends over the phone and doing things that you enjoy while staying safe may help reduce your worries.
  • Seek help early if you are experiencing symptoms that don’t go away.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you should work with your doctor to choose the best treatment for you. In addition to psychotherapy or medication, there are other ways that you may benefit from when dealing with an anxiety disorder.

  • Support groups. A support group alone is not a substitute for therapy. But, in conjunction with other treatment, joining a support group and sharing your experiences with others could benefit you.
  • Meditation and techniques to manage stress. These can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and enhance the effects of therapy.

We Are Here to Support You

Doctor and Patient

Your mental health is important. If you are unsure whether you are experiencing occasional anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at (855) 425-1777. We are here for you, and together we can find the answers you need.

AltaMed can provide information to you and your family about the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. To receive the latest news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, sign up today.

Establishing Routine

Why Having a Routine During Quarantine is So Important

It finally looks like we may be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel regarding COVID-19 lockdowns. So many of us have been sheltering at home, some of us without jobs, others trying to help our kids learn at a distance, all of us wishing for positive news giving us a date for when things will be back to normal.

Even though there are reasons to be optimistic, we are still a long way from our lives returning to the way things were before COVID-19. Coming up with a routine or a regular schedule for your life is more important than ever. It can help you and your family deal with uncertainty and put you in the best position for whatever comes next.

Why Have a Routine?

Woman Making Breakfast

Humans are naturally hard-wired to crave stability and dependability. Our brains and our bodies perform better if we can follow a regular schedule. At first, it may feel fun or relaxing to have a lot of free time that you can use however you want – especially if you have a job you can no longer go to and other responsibilities that have shifted.

However, the decisions you make about how to spend your time cause stress. Do I go to the market or wait another day? What time should I wake up the kids? Should I look for jobs online, or should I watch TV? When should I start cooking dinner?

Without a routine, during a single day, you could be making hundreds of decisions, and the stress and anxiety will add up. Building a routine can take this pressure off and sticking to a routine can help boost your self-confidence.

What are Other Benefits of Having a Routine?

Post-it Notes in the Shape of Vignettes

Having a routine can help you become more efficient. Say, for example, you need to look for a job, but you only give yourself a few minutes, here and there. You will probably spend a lot of time online, searching your computer for resumes and other important documents, and not get that much work done. But if you make it a habit and start a routine – such as spending two hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – you will get into a rhythm that will make your time more productive. This is true for almost anything, whether it’s work, school, cleaning around the house, or even working out.

Following a routine or schedule every day could also help you get a better night’s sleep!

Who Needs a Routine?

Child Showing His Teeth to His Mother

Everyone in your household can benefit from having a schedule – especially children. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted their lives the most, taking them away from school, their friends, and all the social interactions that stimulate their young brains. There are signs that many children may already be suffering from anxiety and depression.

The truth is, this has been hard on all of us. You don’t have to create a perfect routine that mirrors how life was before but work with your family to create structure for everyone.

How Do You Make a Routine?

Woman Exercising

Start out by writing out all the things you need and want to get done, then list them by priority or urgency. The key is to stay busy, yet still have time for meals and personal care.

If you still feel like you don’t have a lot to do, then, look at what you can break down. For example, if one of your items is “cook a healthy dinner,” then you also might need to add “go to the store,” “search online for good recipes,” and “wash and dice the vegetables.” Breaking big to-do items into smaller tasks will help you fill out your day.

Throughout your day, it may help to include things that you used to do regularly. No, you don’t have to get dressed up, but a small thing – for example, putting on earrings or lipstick can help. If you always went on coffee break at 10:30 a.m., you can still have a cup at 10:30 – it will help you feel more normal.

One of the ways you can help create a sense of stability is to create dedicated areas for certain activities. Identify a space in your house for working, create a pleasing environment with all the things you’ll need, and then only work there. Do the same for exercise, family time, leisure, and self-care.

However, you should be realistic about what you can get done. If you try to do too much and miss the mark, you may get discouraged and then give up.

And, just like there are great apps to help you live a healthier life, there are many free apps you can use to start and stick to a routine. More than 20 million people use Todoist, a free app that’s available for both Apple and Android. And Habitica is great for children (and those who are young at heart).It takes a game-like approach to setting goals and rewarding good behavior.

When Should a Routine Go into Effect?

Woman Opening the Curtains

Right now! You can start by creating routines for a few days a week, or even for an entire month.

Don’t feel too bad if you go off your schedule. You can try again tomorrow. The point of a routine is to make your life better.

Don’t Ignore Your Health Routines

AltaMed is open to serve you in any way we can, and we don’t want you to forget about your family’s health routines. Children’s vaccinations are more important than ever, and we have taken steps to protect you and your family’s health so it’s safe to bring your kids in. We are also offering online and over-the-phone doctor visits so you can continue to get the care you need. Call us and make an appointment today!

AltaMed can provide information to you and your family about the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. To receive the latest news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, sign up today.

Bipolar Disorder Is Much More than Mood Swings