The current preoccupation many of us have with the coronavirus coverage is overwhelming. Many of us are checking news and social media feeds on the hour and continually engaging in discussions that are fraught with strife and despair over our health and welfare. Never in modern history has the nation—or the world—been in so much shared turmoil. And that is the silver lining: We are in this together. Never before have the world’s scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs joined together with a common cause, searching to find a vaccine, better treatment options, and a cure.
An individual with bipolar disorder—who often has intrinsically unstable moods to begin with—can find it very challenging to deal with the constant stimuli from the news, interpersonal tensions, and anxiety about the future.
In close quarters, many are finding themselves in uncomfortable situations wherein disagreements lead to fierce arguments that primarily serve to upset everyone and lead to disrupted sleep, unstable moods, and unhelpful behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, fights).
Best is to stay out of circular and toxic confrontations. Prepare a sentence to use when the temperature of the conversation goes up, such as, “Right now is not a good time to talk about this,” or, “This is an important issue—but we need to focus on xyz now.”
Avoid senseless arguments with people who are entrenched in their ideas. You will not change anyone’s mind, nor are they likely to change yours.
When you get upset, it is important to implement your “go-to” activity to calm down. Listen to a favorite song, practice yoga with online tutorials, write in your journal, or do whatever it is that gives you peace. If you do not have a “go-to” activity, talk with a confidante or health-care specialist to develop one (or more). Avoid turning to alcohol and other addictive behaviors.
How can I manage my anxiety over the current stress and uncertainty we face?
In response to potential threats to mood stability, a standard routine needs to be in place, one that includes medication checks with your prescriber and medical support team, perhaps through teletherapy, and a review of your personal health practices (sleep, appetite, exercise).
But meds and personal health practices alone cannot stop the bombardment of news and the addiction to checking social media that cause exacerbated anxiety. I would recommend giving the techniques of mindfulness your full attention.
What is “mindfulness,” and how can it help?
Mindfulness is the state of active and open attention to the present, acknowledging and experiencing one’s own feelings: “I am feeling angry” or “I am feeling happy.” When we are mindful of emotional states, we are able to be an observer of our own state, identify the specific state, and determine an appropriate intervention, if needed. For example, when you are aware that an unpleasant experience is causing you distress, you can decide to go for a walk, play a board game with your family, or read a book from your favorite genre. The key is to be able to identify the internal emotion and implement the intervention.
There are many different smartphone applications and online courses (some free) for cultivating a mindfulness practice. Check to see what is available for you, then give them a try.
Can you recommend some reading on mindfulness?
There are many books written on mindfulness and related techniques. Your library, also accessible through online apps, can provide a selection in the genre of self-help. Start with something easy; for example, Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leading advocates of mindfulness. Another favorite of mine—a few years ago, I gave a copy to everyone on my staff!—is The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, a modern book about an ancestral philosophy and ancient wisdom that offers helpful and simple guidelines for living that have long inspired me.
These are stressful, unprecedented times. But, as Julian of Norwich wrote in the fourteenth century, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”