Has the economic slump affected you? Some people have hardly noticed and some are in the thick of it - financially as well as psychologically. A crisis in the economy can have direct as well as rather insidious effects on our wellbeing. Stress comes with uncertainty and loss of income and it can also affect us indirectly.
I recently discovered that two close colleagues of mine are to be made redundant. As academics we arrived at the university more or less at the same time - around 15 years ago. Although we work in different disciplines, we share common interests and we've become friends. Universities always complain of a lack of funding but I guess we'd became complacent in the knowledge that ‘our' place of work had never previously made anyone redundant. How things change.
It got me thinking about all the stress advice I've seen on internet sites. Not surprisingly, the economic downturn has been the vehicle for a mountain of well-intentioned information. But, as a psychologist or a colleague, do I seriously turn to them and suggest they look at their diet, take regular exercise, use relaxation and get regular sleep? There's actually nothing wrong with the advice, but there's a time and place and this isn't it.
How will this news affect my colleagues? Their vulnerability to the situation will depend upon how stressful they find it. If they are fortunate they will view this as a challenge that will motivate them to seek other opportunities. It may be alternative employment or it may be the catalyst for a complete change of lifestyle. If they are less fortunate, it could spell the beginning of a slump from which they may find great difficulty recovering.
What does this have to do with bipolar disorder? As many people with the disorder will attest, it has everything to with it. Stress acts as a trigger for many illness and conditions, one of which is bipolar. The nature of stress, our familiarity with stressors and our level of sensitivity are all factors that can help prevent or reduce its harmful effects. The one advantage of familiarity with personal triggers is that you can take steps to reduce their most damaging effects.
Catastrophic thinking has a powerful and negative effect. Anyone who feels an experience or event is insurmountable is equally likely to experience a slump in mood that could easily lead to depression. In such situations it is important to challenge negative thinking and to try to put things into perspective.
Problem solving is one of the most important skills we have to reduce the negative effects of stress. It may sound a little clinical, but as well as offering my emotional and practical support where I can, these are the most likely strategies I'm likely to use with my colleagues at this time and they are exactly the same that I'd use with anyone else - bipolar or not.
However, we can't presuppose that a person with bipolar isn't already experiencing some alteration in mood when they are hit by additional stress. For example, someone already in a mild state of depression may find additional stressors too much to handle. Likewise, a person who is a little hypomanic could see the challenge for what it is but then go into overdrive in their attempts to solve the problem. Recognizing the signs early and intervening to manage them is important, usually much more so than the issue that is causing the stress.
Published On: May 25, 2009
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