How to Manage Anxiety When Struggling with Bipolar Disorder

Most people can relate to feeling anxious, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Worries over health, employment, and the future in general are common right now. For many, the symptoms of anxiety can be easily managed. But for those who are struggling with another mental health concern like bipolar disorder, anxiety can be difficult to control, making it harder to maintain stable moods.

Many of those who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder will also struggle with some form of anxiety at some point in their lives. The presence of anxiety can trigger mood episodes and make it difficult to differentiate between the two conditions. Luckily, with the right tips and treatment plan, you can manage anxiety.

What Does Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder Look Like?

An anxiety disorder that co-occurs with bipolar disorder can complicate diagnosis and treatment. It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of each and how they might affect each other.

Bipolar disorder causes dramatic shifts in mood and behavior, including depressive episodes and manic episodes. Episodes of depression and mania can each last for weeks at a time.

An episode of depression might include the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or empty
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

An episode of mania can involve:

  • Increased energy
  • Restlessness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Needing little sleep
  • Having unrealistic beliefs about oneself
  • Use of alcohol and drugs
  • Inappropriate and impulsive behavior

The goal of bipolar disorder treatment is to achieve mood stability. However, when anxiety is present, this can be a trigger for episodes. Anxiety disorders that are common with bipolar disorder include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Signs that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder along with bipolar disorder include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Significant anxiety
  • Excessive worry
  • Avoidance of certain places or activities due to uncontrollable fear
  • Difficulty sleeping and anxiety that is present even when not in a manic state

When these symptoms exist with episodes of depression and mania, both bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder may be present. Suffering from both an anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder can greatly affect your quality of life. Luckily, with proper treatment, you can effectively manage both conditions.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

There are some things you can do when you feel stressed or anxious. These strategies won’t necessarily eliminate symptoms of anxiety, but they can make it easier to manage symptoms and avoid mood episodes. Here are some tips to try when feeling stressed or anxious:

  1. Find ways to mentally distract yourself – When you begin to have stressful or anxiety-provoking thoughts, it can help to distract your mind with a task that requires your mental focus, like painting or reading.
  2. Follow a routine that works – Establishing a routine can help you gain a sense of control and ensures that you have adequate time for things like sleep, self-care, exercise, and relaxation.
  3. Practice listing things around you – When you feel overwhelmed with thoughts, it can help to turn your attention outward. Try listing five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  4. Have a self-soothing strategy – By forming a self-soothing strategy or coping kit before anxiety sets in, you can be better prepared to manage symptoms. This might include a calming playlist, essential oils, and anything that can help quiet your mind.
  5. Challenge anxious thoughts with facts – When you have negative thoughts and worry about the worst-case scenario happening, try challenging them with proof. If there is no evidence to back up your worries, you may be unintentionally overexaggerating your fears.
  6. Share your plan with your inner circle – It can be easy to become isolated when feeling anxious, but it is important to allow support from others. By sharing your coping plan with someone close to you, they can help remind you of your strategies and understand how to support you.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Even with a coping plan in place, anxiety can sometimes still trigger a mood episode. It is important to know when the anxiety is becoming too difficult to manage and when it is time to seek professional help.

If you are struggling to manage anxiety and bipolar disorder symptoms, you are not alone, and help is available.