Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘stress’

How Do You Find Relief From Stress?

Stress is a major factor in my life, and I’m sure it is in your life as well. As far as I can tell, there is no one these days that doesn’t suffer stress. I don’t know any millionaires or billionaires, but I imagine that, perhaps counterintuitively, even they suffer stress. There’s the stress of keeping their businesses going, watching their investments shrink when the stock market tanks, and stress in their personal lives. It’s hard to feel sorry for the very rich, but I can at least understand that they do have stress.

Yet, the stress I feel as someone with SMI is different. It’s not just the normal stress that comes with day-to-day life – bills, health, family, and the buildup of petty annoyances, et endless cetera. There are stressors specific to people with mental illness.

There’s the stress of symptoms or waiting for them to come back or get worse. There’s the stress of trying to find a therapy – medication or otherwise – that will help. The stress of trying to make a living or get on disability. Avoiding our triggers. Trying to find or maintain relationships. Remembering to take medication every day. The things we think of as stress relievers can be counterproductive, too. Booze or drugs, overeating, over-shopping, and other compulsive behaviors can actually add to the stress. Even performing self-care activities can cause stress – guilt over not doing the things we “should” do like exercise or meditation.

Having a caregiver can help lessen some stress. Caregivers can’t completely eliminate stress, however. In fact, they can be the cause of certain kinds of stress – worry about whether they’ll show up, whether we’re putting them through too much stress, or whether they resent us, to name a few.

So, what are some ways to relieve stress that don’t cause more stress?

My go-to stress reliever is music. When it all gets to be too much, I have myself a little music party. Usually, I party by myself, but sometimes my husband joins me, at least for the first half hour or so of it. I have plenty of slow, sad songs on my computer, but my music parties emphasize loud, raucous tunes. My playlist also contains silly songs (think Dr. Demento). I am fortunate enough to have a number of friends who are singer-songwriters and who specialize in the ridiculous, so I’m amply supplied. Sometimes I bounce around from song to song as they occur to me. Other times, I let the shuffle feature pick. An hour or two and I’m unwound enough to sleep.

My cats also provide distraction from stress. For some reason, I find it calming to watch cats wash themselves. The sound of purring is a stress reliever, and one of our cats snores (daintily) while she sleeps. Besides, they generate lots of alpha waves, and those are contagious.

I do also want to address the use of CBD/THC products for stress relief. I don’t have much experience with this, so I’ll have to defer to people more knowledgeable than I am. And I certainly don’t want to encourage anyone to break any laws. But I understand that one of the difficulties of using CBD in particular can be balancing the relaxing effects with potential paranoia. Still, many people find CBD to be a sleep aid, and good, restful sleep is a major stress reliever. At the moment, in my state (Ohio), PTSD and Tourette’s are the only mental disorders for which medical marijuana can be prescribed. Other forms of CBD such as hemp products are more widely available, including online.

What you actually do for stress relief matters less than that you do something. Maybe for you, that’s a massage or a warm bubble bath. But maybe it’s hugs, music, grounding exercises, meditation, or yoga. Whatever you find relieves your stress, making time for it on a daily basis isn’t a bad idea. That way, you’ll be in practice when the stress does hit.

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Simone Biles: Mental Health Is Health Too

There’s been a lot of media interest lately in Simone Biles. The gymnast described by many as the Greatest of All Time withdrew from the Olympics, citing mental health reasons. Many news outlets and commenters have been understanding, but some have not. A Texas Deputy Attorney General, for example, called Biles a “selfish, childish national embarrassment,” which he apologized for six hours later. A podcaster called her “weak,” and said that her performance showed that “when things get tough, you shatter into a million pieces.” After Biles pulled out, the team won a silver medal, with the Russians getting the gold.

Many have compared Biles with Kerri Strug, who performed the vault in the 1996 Olympics, despite having an injured leg. At the time she was praised for her courage and strength, although it turned out that the American Women’s Gymnastic Team would have won the gold even without Strug’s dramatic vault.

Biles’s situation and its comparison with Kerri Struggs serves to reinforce the idea that only physical injuries are “real” and that talking about and acting on mental health matters is not acceptable. Yes, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has talked about his struggle with depression, but only after the Games were over. It was brave of him to talk about it, but he received little to no backlash after deciding to talk openly about depression and suicidal ideation.

As in so many other situations, mental health and mental disorders are considered less “real” than physical disorders. And the pressure put on athletes and Olympic athletes in particular can be a factor in damaging their mental health. Athletes have long been encouraged to “play through the pain,” even when that results in severe physical injury. Few have considered how playing through psychological pain affects athletes.

Added to the stress of competition and the pressures of fans, parents, and coaches to succeed, many athletes have suffered through physical and sexual abuse. Simone Biles has commented that she is part of the #MeToo movement that has brought attention to previously unrecognized instances of sexual harassment and exploitation. In a lengthy tweet, Biles revealed that she was one of the victims of team physician Larry Nasser, who is now in jail following over 100 counts of such behavior. “As I continue to work through the pain,” Biles tweeted, “I kindly ask everyone to respect my privacy. This is a process, and one that I need more time to work through.” She could have tweeted the same thing regarding her recent mental health problems.

Another factor in the language surrounding Biles’s decision to remove herself from the Olympic competition is how many people talk about how she personally denied “us” a gold medal (as if all Americans were in contention for the medal) or ceded the victory to the Russians. Ideological matters ought not to be a point of discussion regarding an athlete’s mental health. But they are. People forget that the Olympic Games are just that – games. Too much patriotic fervor is whipped up based on the outcome and the international goodwill of the Games has been lost.

Along with the fact that an amazing athlete was strong enough not to let the pressures of competition further affect her mental health. Simone should be praised for her decision, not called weak and childish.

The Stressor I Didn’t Realize I Had

You’ve seen those lists of life stressors, the ones where they assign you so many points for each stressful life event that occurred during the past year and use the total to calculate the likelihood of your becoming physically ill. Death of a spouse or child is at the top of the list, for 100 points. Marriage, divorce, taking out a mortgage (or losing your home), and even retirement are on the list.

The lists you find in various places differ in the details. Some list only ten major stressors, while others list 20 or more. (Nowhere in any of the lists does being diagnosed with, or living with, a serious mental illness appear. Apparently, only physical illnesses are considered stressful.)

I’ve managed to avoid a lot of the major stressors this year, though I can count retirement, my husband’s heart attack, and losing our home in my total. But there was one life event on one of the lists that I hadn’t even considered: changing one’s residence.

When I thought about it I could understand it, though. Moving is a major disruption of your life. It entails endless details, physical effort, and a need for psychological stamina. Packing up your life in boxes is itself a stressful process. (Hell, I get stressed just packing for a vacation.)

In the past month and a half, we’ve moved a total of four times, if you count the night we were evacuated from our tornado-damaged house to the Red Cross shelter. (Not that we did any packing for that. The rescue squad just yelled, “Grab your medications and come with us!”) We then moved to a hotel, then a pet-friendly hotel, and finally to a rental house where we can stay for up to a year while our house is rebuilt. (We had good insurance.)

It was the last move that was possibly most traumatic, though it was the one that brought us closest to a “normal” situation. A whole house. A full kitchen. A backyard. A mailing address. Like the hotels, it came with various rented amenities such as linens and dishes that made the transition easier, but it was still foreign to us.  We’ve been here for a couple of weeks now and are adjusting, but it’s undeniable that the whole process has stressed us very badly.

I know that we are fortunate in so many ways. The closest we came to true homelessness was the day spent in the Red Cross shelter. We both survived the tornado physically intact, and so did our cats. We know we still had a lot to be thankful for, and we were, and are.

The tornado was the really big stressor, but I only recently realized how much stress the constant moving added to the toll. As a person with bipolar disorder, I find all these moves jarring as well as stressful. I like to cocoon, rarely leaving the house. I want my comfort objects around me. The series of moves tapped into my fear of abandonment, my anxiety around packing, and my feeling of being overwhelmed by life. My husband, who is given to depression, feels the loss of all the things that embodied his memories very keenly. Our local paper observed that many of the tornado victims were suffering PTSD. I may be among them, as I have had tornado dreams and other sorts of upsetting ones.

Will we succumb to stress-induced physical illness? Who knows? Have we been suffering from the psychological effects of stress? Definitely. If you had asked me two months ago whether moving was a stressor, I would most likely have said yes.  But I had no idea of the reality. We had intended to stay in our home for the rest of our lives. When suddenly that became not an option, we came unmoored both physically and psychologically.

Stability has always been a problem for me, but now my husband and I have even less of it than usual. When we finally get a chance to settle in, take a deep breath and a day off, perhaps the stress will lift a little. But until then, we’ll keep slogging through it.


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