Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shedding Light on Bipolar Disorder

As I sit in my bedroom writing this blog, I am looking out my bedroom window. The sun is shining with all its glory from the sky above. Fall has arrived and I know that soon the dreary days of winter in the Pacific Northwest will bring overcast skies and an abundance of rain. The weather has a huge impact on my mood. 

Each year I expect to feel a bit of depression during the colder, darker months. The constant rain during these seasons in Western Washington makes it less appealing to spend time outside. I have less energy. I find that I am most comfortable snuggled in bed reading or watching movies. 

During the spring and summer months I wake up early. I get more things accomplished. Increased energy gives me more desire to spend time outside walking around in the sunshine. Our family takes part in more outdoor activities because of the warmer weather. 

My psychologist advises that I should get as much natural light as possible, especially during the months when there are less hours of sun available. He recommends that I wake up at the same time every morning. He also suggests that getting regular doses of light earlier in the day is better in order to take advantage of the limited amount of sunlight during fall and winter. Even when it is overcast, spending time outdoors is still beneficial.

Depressive symptoms in individuals with bipolar disorder can be predicted by looking at a calendar (Daily Health Report, 2011). When the weather shifts from days filled with light into days with longer periods of darkness, depression may occur. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) happens during the fall and winter months. Seasonal depression is more common in the northern region of the world.

The change of the seasons from winter to spring can influence moods of people in the opposite direction (Pendulum.org, 2005). With the introduction of more sunshine, a person experiences an increase of energy and elevation of mood. The behavior of individuals with bipolar disorder may change to mania. The upswing of moods may lead to high-risk behavior. A higher rate of suicide may occur as the mood shifts upward. It is theorized that the increase of energy may allow someone with bipolar disorder to have the mental strength to put their suicidal thoughts into action.

I realize that people with mood disorders are not the only ones that experience changes in mood during the transition of the seasons. In my case, I have to pay attention to how the weather affects me because it plays a large role in my behavior. Individuals with bipolar disorder can have more extreme mood shifts, therefore, making them more susceptible for erratic behavior.

Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I took the advice to get more sunshine during the winter months for granted. I considered it to be a general guideline for everyone. Now that I know that it is crucial for me to get enough light in order to regulate my moods, I am more apt to follow the advice.
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