Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How to cope with day-to-day stress

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For all the great thinking that we try to fill our minds with, it is the mundane everyday problems that could prove to be the real tests of composure. When we face a big challenge, we tell ourselves it is a big challenge. We brace ourselves for major life events such as when there is a severe injury, sudden unemployment, a divorce or a separation, or untimely death of a loved one. Because we have mentally accepted something as a major challenge, we are prepared for the way it would tax us.  Instincts kick in and we go into survival mode.  Then what is different about day-to-day challenges?  They are not entirely unexpected.  They might even repeat quite frequently.  If anything, we know how imperfect life is.  So why do mundane occurrences prove to be stressful?

Do we really want to believe how imperfect our lives are!


We know, life is imperfect.  Sudden and unexpected events happen everyday.  Plans seldom work out exactly as thought.  Even keeping a simple appointment with someone few miles away cannot be predicted reliably.  We know, that's how life is.  But, do we want to believe it!  It certainly sounds strange that, with all the evidence that reminds us, we are still reluctant to believe that everyday life can present unpleasant and unexpected occurrences.  No, I am not suggesting pessimism, for that too would mean going to the other extreme.  We don't want to be imagining or believing in a dire outcome for nearly everything we do.  We would even end up being avoided by others for having such an outlook.  Wisdom behooves us to have a balanced outlook.  While we are hopeful for good outcome with needed effort, we should also be prepared that everything might not turn out as planned.  It pays to be prepared for undesirable outcomes.

Appreciating the physiological impact of bipolar disorder


Fluctuations in neurotransmitter levels and hormonal changes are, just two of the reasons why coping with day-to-day stress is not as straightforward as it may sound.  Why do neurotransmitter levels fluctuate?  Why are there hormonal changes?  Well, those are exactly the kind of questions one needs to ask their psychiatrist.  He may be able to provide some answers not only in theory, but also in paying attention to the level of chosen medications.  How exactly each medicine affects us and how it affects a particular individual a certain way, is not clearly understood.  But we can do ourselves a huge service by keeping a check on our health and informing the psychiatrist accordingly.  A mood-chart is a very useful tool.  I also believe it would be worth looking at the Healthline.com list of iPhone and Android apps for bipolar disorder. The ability to cope with day-to-day stress on a daily basis is a very important indicator of the success of a chosen treatment plan.  Isn't it true, that the goal of treatment is to help improve the quality of life?  In bipolar disorder, the success (or failure) of prescribed medication has an enormous impact on the body and mind.

How we can keep day-to-day stress in check


Life is not as much under our control as we would like, or as we believe it to be.  Still, we can do much with our thinking and lifestyle to reduce stress to a reasonable extent.  What might those things be?  Let's see what practical steps can help you and me.  At least, I would need to keep coming back to this list to remember what is offered as suggestions to others.
  1. A good day starts with good sleep: Anybody who is deprived of a restful sleep the night before will be more prone to stress the next day.  For those who suffer from the vagaries of bipolar disorder, that is especially true.  Missing even night's sleep can precipitate a manic episode.  Sleep is virtually at par with medicine in bipolar disorder.  Some things which many have found useful to improve sleep are - avoiding television late in the evening, getting mentally prepared to end the day and its activities as night approaches, spending time in the sun during the day hours, exercise in the earlier part of the day, avoiding a heavy supper, and avoiding caffeine late in the day.  I am not a fan of medication-induced sleep.  Natural sleep is real; much more restorative.  Surely, you have discovered ways to sleep better at night and things that hamper good sleep.  I also empathize with you, if all the good intentions still result in sleepless nights.  Sometimes, it is troublesome past memories that keep us awake, but we can do something about that too.
  2. Avoiding perfectionism: In a few other places on this blog, I have used the word perfectionism.  It is one of my favorites.  I find myself still battling with this tendency even after many years and many reminders.  The strange thing is, perfectionism never brought happiness, contentment, or even lasting improvement.  At best, in personal performance it has been a short-sighted strategy and definitely detrimental to self and relationships in the long run.  Giving up perfectionism is much harder than it seems, because to the bipolar mind it gives a false sense of security.
  3. A generally positive outlook toward people: If you asked someone, what tends to annoy them often, what is the typical response?  Including myself, I would probably think of some annoying tendency or habit on the part of a friend or family member.  Only later might I even consider some of my own annoying flaw.  While most of us wouldn't go so far as to hating other people, we do tend to drift toward negativity in our attitude.  Then, we might even feel guilty for feeling that way.  It is the right thing to have love for others.  It is also healthy.  We can't just wake up one fine morning and say, "Okay, I am going to be loving toward people."  If we have harbored prejudices, or have been victims of injustices and hurt, giving up the pain can be very hard.  We need reason to feel differently toward people and to change our outlook.  Those reasons need to be so strong and convincing that they can sustain a positive outlook when it is challenged.  And it will be challenged.  One reason at least is, that holding on to negativity further damages us emotionally (and even physically) and prevents us from forming new and meaningful relationships.  Basically, it makes everyday life more stressful.
  4. One day at a time: How many times have we heard this superb advice?  Yet, admittedly how often do we need to be reminded of the same?  Within a 24-hour day, we can only handle so much.  Why then are we bent on cramming into that 24-hour day, anxiety fit for many days!  We deplete ourselves of energy and joy.  We might also end up not being able to do what we otherwise might have done in a more relaxed frame of mind.  It is true that, we can add to our daily anxiety through bad habits such as procrastination or the tendency to be lazy.  Let's try to work on those bad habits and tendencies rather than adding to them the habit of needless worrying.  If in bipolar disorder, anxiety is becoming a major issue despite cognitive training, it can really even be due to the effect of certain medications.  I once took Quetiapine Fumarate (U.S. trade name, Seroquel) and it caused Restless Leg Syndrome!  On another occasion I was prescribed Clonazepam, and it stopped my legs from moving uncontrollably.  The power of chemical agents used to treat bipolar disorder should never be underestimated.  Vigilance on the part of patients and family members is crucial.
  5. Slow down: Life has become fast...too fast!  Sometimes we don't even feel that we have time to think before reacting.  Sometimes we even forget to breathe slow and deep.  Let's slow down!
  6. Hope: If despite all our good intentions and hard work our day still ends up being a disaster, hardly going as planned, what will keep us going?  That thing is hope.  Unlike popular belief, hope is neither wishful thinking nor is it gullibility.  Real hope is based on reliable foundation.  Real hope is based on truth.  For example, when a person prays, he should rightly be able to hope that his prayer is being heard; that he is not merely talking to wind.  But how would he have such hope or confidence unless he has examined the reasons for such hope?  Or another example is, when people say that it will turn out alright in the end, what do they base it on?  Is it nothing more than an assumption?  An assumption - good or bad - is just that, an assumption.  To be truly satisfied, an intelligent human being needs evidence.  I found such evidence in the Bible.  It deserves honest, unbiased examination like any other source of information.  I hope, you would be inclined someday to do so for yourself.
Coping with day-to-day stress is linked to our general attitude about life.  After all, life is the sum of all our days put together.  It might not feel that way when daily quirks and annoyances destabilize us.  We can't control events, but hopefully we can reduce how prone we are to stress by taking care of ourselves.  As I am about to finish writing this post, I am smiling at my own poor sleeping habits...a work in progress! 

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