David Baxter PhD
Facing the Beast of Bipolar IrritabilityAndrea Paquette, bpHope.com
March 9, 2021
Of all the mood states of bipolar, irritability really drags me down. I work hard to escape its clutches before it morphs into intense anger and overwhelm.
In my everyday life, I am usually happy and feel that life is pretty good, all things considered. Each of us experiences a variety of moods and feelings, whether or not we have bipolar disorder. However, bipolar can make it difficult to manage emotions. Sometimes, trying to balance my feelings can seem impossible—especially when irritability is nipping at my heels.
Complicating Factors with Bipolar IrritabilityIrritability is a mood that ignites frustration, anger, and strong feelings of overwhelm in me. There are many factors that can give rise to this mood, and I’m sure many of you can relate to my plight.
Sometimes, I feel all of these emotions intensely, while also grappling with a sense of being “on edge.” On top of that, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) exacerbates my emotions and frustrations. I know those who don’t live with PMS can feel just as overwhelmed by irritability. However, when the mood swings of PMS are coupled with those of bipolar disorder, I get a type of “double-effect” that could pick away at the demeanor of even the most patient of individuals.
The Unexpected Arrival of IrritabilityThere are times when I wake up and automatically feel the pressures of life—worries about making enough money to cover the bills; feeling fears of more debt piling up; detesting the frustration being a primary caretaker to my mother; fearing the amount of work that piles up daily; and then, of course, the awfulness of all things related to the world health crisis….
I don’t usually concern myself with these types of worries, but when irritability arises, I often feel like I am in a windstorm—especially when sudden incidents crop up and complicate my life, like my tooth breaking in half or my dog needing to go to the vet.
Suddenly, life becomes a type of disastrous symphony. When all of these factors come together, I am left to deal with the looming frustration. Sometimes, it feels as if it gets to be too much.
The good news is that there are many things we can do to manage the symptoms of irritability, even though it feels impossible to grasp the reins on this powerful beast.
Here are some suggestions for what I have found to help me manage when it all gets to be “too much.”
#1 Avoid Caffeine and AlcoholThis is extremely important in general and when it comes to irritability, as caffeine and alcohol are mood-altering substances that can wreak havoc with our ramped-up irritability. Caffeine is a stimulant, and alcohol is a downer, so it’s even worse if you consume them both in one day. Best to just stay away from them when you feel the creeping of irritability in your mood. Instead, I drink health-supporting herbal teas, such as chamomile or mint, which are calming to the system. Even if you are not fond of herbal teas, I find that it is worth a try because it does calm me down.
#2 Breathe Slowly & MeditateYou don’t have to be a meditation guru to practice slow, deep breathing. Throw on some good YouTube clips and take a good 20–30 minutes (or more, if you can!) and bring in the calm with some silence and breath.
#3 Exercise (I Know!)I exercise at home nearly every day, but many people find that really hard to do. Perhaps improvise to make it more interesting and/or easier, such as by getting a vibrating exercise board and just standing on it. Feeling your body shake out all the stress and irritability is awesome. Or keep it simple with a fast-paced walk with the dog. That is always a great option, especially as it benefits your pup’s health, too.
#4 Invest in Some Alone TimeWhen I’m very agitated, there is nothing worse than being around other people. I recognize that I start to mentally pick apart the people around me, and I really see things that I don’t like about them. I would not do this, at all, if I were in a stable mood.
So, when I’m struggling with this irksome mood swing, I often end up having to apologize to my family members because I tend to be less considerate, like throwing my towels down the stairs to the laundry room or closing doors too loudly. My aggressive behavior isn’t good—and it is not fair to those who are sharing space with me, so I tend to stay in my home office and close the door while I work for a few hours.
#5 Go Easy on YourselfIt is not always easy to manage bipolar disorder, and certainly not when you feel clouded by intense irritability. At times like these, I try to not put myself down or call myself names and instead take action (such as applying these suggestions). I can only do my best, right?
Managing a Mountain of MoodsMy moods can feel like the piling up of an already-existing irritability mountain. And I surely want to conquer it. But, on certain days, it feels like Mount Everest. It feels simply impossible.
On those days, every once in a while, I just wait it out, hoping that tomorrow will be better and I’ll learn from the mistakes I made today.
In the end, I know that taking action and chipping away at the mountain is the best way to go, and even though the effects of bipolar cannot be cured, they can certainly be managed.