Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in mood along a continuum between depression and mania (euphoria). A chemical imbalance in the brain that affects emotions causes bipolar disorder. It often co-exists with other anxiety disorders.

Stress plays a significant role in the lives of those who are bipolar. While stress is a normal response to life's challenges, excessive stress can be harmful. For someone who has bipolar disorder, the same stressful situation that a healthy individual successfully manages can lead to a bipolar episode. At the same time, bipolar disorder also produces stressful behavior.

The National Institutes of Mental Health reports that an errant enzyme called Protein Kinase C (PKC) that is linked to bipolar disorder impairs cognition (understanding) under stress when patients are in the manic stage. This biochemical imbalance makes bipolar individuals more vulnerable to emotional and physical stressors. Even mild stress can worsen cognitive symptoms in bipolar patients.

Managing Stress

If you have bipolar disorder, you can manage stress so it does not exacerbate your condition. In fact, many stress-management strategies and techniques healthy people employ also work well for people with Bipolar Disorder.

Identify triggers. The first step to successfully managing stress is to identify those things that trigger stress. Can you eliminate, or minimize, those stressors from your life? If not, then experts recommend you develop strategies to learn not to let them bother you.

Psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can teach you how to develop coping strategies. CBT is especially effective in Bipolars when used with mood-stabilizing medication. With the help of a trained therapist, you can learn to recognize when a mood shift is about to occur so you can take preventive steps-such as temporarily removing yourself from the stressful situation-before it sets off a Bipolar incidence. Furthermore, CBT helps Bipolar patients stick with their treatment plan to prevent relapse (Bipolar patients often abandon their therapy).

Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, hypnosis, and yoga can be calming and restorative and provide a much-needed distraction in times of stress.

Lifestyle modifications. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol, smoking, sugar, and other unhealthy substances can help maintain emotional and physical stability. Sugar, for example, can trigger a short-term high, which is detrimental to someone with a mood disorder. Exercise is also a great stress-buster.

The great thing about all of these stress management techniques is that they are safe and do not interfere with your medical treatment


BBC News. "Stressful event kills brain cells." Web. 3 March 2007. 

National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Stress Impairs Thinking Via Mania-Linked Enzyme." Web. 26 June 2008.

National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Bipolar Disorder. Web. 4 June 2010.