Calming the Cycle of Anxiety and Bipolar Depression
The Bipolar Burble is extremely honoured to introduce today’s guest author: Ross Szabo. Ross and I met when he introduced me when I won the Erasing the Stigma Leadership award earlier this year. Ross is a past recipient and an inspiring mental health speaker and, well, human being. Read below how he has learned to calm his bipolar depression by recognizing anxiety.
I was an anxious person before my diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features. Needless to say after my diagnosis, my anxiety did not improve. It took a lot of years of extreme alcohol abuse, broken knuckles, sleeplessness, hallucination-filled nights and dangerous behaviors until I was able to find ways to balance my disorder.
Anxiety seems to be at the root, or heavily tied to, every mood I have with bipolar disorder. One of the most dangerous cycles I have gone through is when anxiety swings in to contribute to constant thoughts of death and suicide. Overwhelming anxiety or crippling depression are hard enough to face separately. When they combine the results can be tragic. Working with a professional to locate your anxiety/depression cycle is a great way to enhance your treatment.
Identifying Anxiety is the First Step
When my depression was at its worst I had a lot of sleepless nights. I was crying uncontrollably, while obsessing over visions of everyone I cared about dying. What would their funerals be like? What would I say? How long would I kneel at their coffins? My mind would intermittently jump to thoughts of my own death. Then focus on all of the ways I could make that happen.
Finding the anxiety in these moments can seem almost impossible. After years of episodes like this I learned to recognize that the repetitive thoughts were coming from my fear of death and suicide. That fear fueled my anxiety. I also recognized that when I would have obsessive thoughts of death that I felt massive amounts of nervousness in my chest and sometimes couldn’t breathe. Identifying thoughts of anxiety and the feelings that go with it were a good start.
Steps to Calm Anxiety and Bipolar Depression
Medications help lessen anxiety and depression. It was helpful for me to talk to my therapist about the steps I could take outside of medications to stop this destructive cycle.
- Identify anxiety as it is happening. Noticing the tightness in my chest or nervousness in my body allowed me to take the next steps to stop the anxiety from building.
- Do something to break the cycle of anxiety before it leads to the constant obsessive thoughts. In my darkest moods I found it was good to simply get out of the house. Go to a movie. See a friend. Go for a walk. Anything to change the pattern.
- Develop new coping mechanisms. It’s great to do something to stop the cycle, but eventually I needed longer term coping mechanisms to create new pathways in my brain. When I start feeling the anxiety/depression cycle I run, do yoga, bike, talk about how I feel, write or watch sports.
- Learn from setbacks. It takes time to change the neural pathways involved in the anxiety/depression cycle. I often found that none of my new coping mechanisms were successful in stopping the cycle completely, but they could give me a break. I paid attention to what worked and how long it worked. I had a lot of setbacks, but even if I stopped the cycle for a few hours or a day, I tried to pay attention and build from that.
- Practice. The more I practiced all of these steps the easier it became to lessen the cycle. Eventually our brains do create new pathways and they can become as strong as the anxiety/depression cycle, but offer us the opportunities to balance our lives.
Ross Szabo is the CEO of Human Power Project, a company that creates mental health curriculum for people of all ages. He’s an award-winning speaker, co-author of Behind Happy Faces; Taking Charge of Your Mental Health and social pioneer. Ross has spoken to over 1 million people about his experiences with bipolar disorder and reached millions more in media appearances. He received the 2010 Didi Hirsch Removing the Stigma Leadership Award, 2012 Changing Minds Award and had his advocacy work entered into the Record of Congress. Find Ross Szabo on Twitter.