Stress and Bipolar Disorder Don’t Mix

October 1, 2014 Natasha Tracy

Stress and Bipolar Don’t Mix

Stress and bipolar disorder don’t mix. In fact, stress and illness, in general, don’t mix. It pretty much doesn’t matter why you’re sick, it’s well known that your illness can get worse when you’re put under stress (Mental Illness, Stress, ... and Relapse). What does this mean for bipolar? Well, when I’m stressed I have experienced greater symptoms of hypomania and/or greater symptoms of depression depending on the type of stress.

Stress in the Body

Stress does all sorts of physical things in the body. It’s not just about the feeling of stress, it’s about why you’re feeling that way and that comes down to everything from neurotransmitter to hormone changes. Stress, like mental illness, is a physical problem.

And stress takes its toll on a body and is known to affect everything from mood to the immune system.

Stress and Bipolar Disorder

Stress can bring about symptoms of bipolar hypomania or bipolar depression. Here's what to consider when thinking about bipolar and stress.And what I’ve found is that people with mental illness tend to be able to deal with less stress than your average person. We see this in the way it’s tough to make big decisions with bipolar and in how even little decisions can stress us out. So if we feel stress and anxiety in everyday life circumstances, then it only makes sense that extra stress is going to make us feel extra bipolar symptoms.

Like I said, those symptoms for me can be hypomanic or depressive (or even mixed) in nature. For example, if I’m under the stress of being filmed for a documentary, I tend to get really hyped up and hypomanic because of the performance aspect. If, on the other hand, I’m stressed because I’m not sure how I’m going to make my rent next month then I might become seriously depressed.

Removing Stress from your Life

It stands to reason, then, that removing stress from your life can improve your bipolar disorder and, indeed, I have talked to people who say their disorder has drastically improved, regardless of treatment, by reducing the stress in their lives. This often means changing jobs and making other significant lifestyle changes but it can be done.

Even if you aren’t prepared to make substantial changes, little things can reduce your stress too. For example, a yoga practice or meditation can help reduce overall stress levels. Heck, even just learning how to deep breathe can help someone reduce stress in the moment and even overall (most people do not breathe very well).

Additionally, how you handle stress can be altered by learning about additional tools such as those taught through dialectical behavior therapy and others.

Bipolar and Living Through Stress

All that being said though, there are still many times when stress will occur and you will have to live through it. That’s when all your coping skills and tools matter the most and even where medications (such as those taken on an as-needed basis) can help. So take my advice and think about stress before it happens and plan what you will do when it strikes. Because handling it more effectively can help you suffer fewer symptoms of bipolar disorder and that is something for which we are all looking.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2014, October 1). Stress and Bipolar Disorder Don’t Mix, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

June, 6 2018 at 2:28 pm

How can you plan for stress?

November, 11 2014 at 4:03 am

Stress was abundantly manifest as I grew up in a very dysfunctional home (undisclosed mental illness & suicide attempts; sexual abuse, etc.). I am bipolar and I struggle with the resentment I feel for having been pre-disposed genetically and for having come up in a very unhealthy family dynamic. Take one part DNA + life's stressors, and voila! On the other hand I have raised two children successfully, managed a marriage of 37 years, survived 9 years living in Oklahoma (don't ever go there -- brutal environment), and graduated with my bachelor's degree at the age of 53! Stress be damned, I'm on a mission.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 22 2019 at 1:53 am

I read your comment about 4 months ago and had to screenshot it. I was amazed at how much we have in common. I too grew up in a very unhealthy family dynamic. Not sure who had the mental illness or suicide attempts in your family, but my mom would always say my dad was manic depressive, come to find out after my diagnosis we have been diagnosed with the same thing. My parents were divorced but still both lived with us except for some time my dad spent away. And my brother attempted suicide many times when he was younger and not that long ago. He ended up being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder around the same time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Then when you mentioned Oklahoma I was super weirded out! I moved to Oklahoma City to be exact and absolutely hated it. Worst year and 10 months of my life. I quickly found out it wasn't for me but was stuck until March of 2017 I took my chance and moved to Austin (I'm from further south Texas). I had been feeling like I may not be able to sustain a marriage or nonetheless have kids because of my bipolar and how irritable and crazy I can feel. To know that someone that has managed to have such a great life with bipolar and with some of the same problems gives me hope like nothing else.

October, 31 2014 at 8:09 am

i like the article and the tips but I don't agree that people with mental illness areless able to cope with stress. My personal and professional experience is that people with bipolar disorder are massively more resilient and able to manage stress than people without mental illness. Stress is tough, but in real life it's unavoidable. Strategies like those in this article can help a lot. But I believe that people with bipolar disorder are uniquely able to handle more stress than your average person

October, 9 2014 at 7:06 am

I want to first reply to navvet. Welcome and thank you for sharing. My wife of 12 years dated someone with bipolar before me that did things as you describe. They'd go on holiday and have a great time, then the woman would have an episode upon coming home. I am bipolar (lucky for my wife, eh?) but I didn't have as extreme responses to changes. I had regular issues with change, but I never thought it was the relationship or that the relationship should end. We are all different but that particular symptom definitely illustrates an issue. No one can diagnose her by that but it's good you are paying attention. Good luck!
Great post. I started meditating 9 months ago and it has changed my life. I now meditate twice a day most days. As I'm coming off Klonopin, meditation is a great tool, mandatory. It helps me change my perspective from "this is a crisis" to "this is just a problem needing a solution." Only from a calm mind and body could I make that shift.

October, 8 2014 at 1:54 pm

New member and excited to have a place to turn. Off topic...but have begun a relationship with a wonderful woman who does/doesn't have bi-polar. (her MD) wants to treat accordingly) I have only seen moments roughly one or two "interesting mood changes" I.E Starts morning by calling me telling me to have a great day and by 4pm thinks this relationship should just end. The next week will be great talking about morning this isn't a relationship.
She is a talented caring and intelligent woman with great moral and ethical values. She has had numerous surgeries and has had a difficultb time with her long (10years) recovery. Is she showing signs of bi-Polar? Can injuries and drug use (pain killers) Cause an underlying Bi-Polar appearance. sorry for the long blog. Bottom line I am going no place...I can deal with Bi-Polar if I just know the facts and have outlets like this

Jeannette Kavanagh
October, 3 2014 at 1:44 pm

Thank you so much for this article. I love that it is from the authentic place of your lived expedience and that the strategies are realistic and doable. I've just discovered this blog and I'll be telling clients and colleagues about it.

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