Circadian rhythms, season change and bipolar disorder

In southcentral Alaska, spring begins in April. For me, April is the cruelest month, bringing with it a violation of my circadian rhythms because of the sudden and dramatic return of the sun. April is the transition between the long, dark days of winter and the brilliant, long days of summer. It’s a period of adjustment, but for me that “adjustment” is rough and tumble, as the sunlight interrupts my sleep and completely turns my world upside down.

The instability usually begins in mid- to late March and continues into the first half of May. It is early February now, and, being a naturally anxious person, I begin to be afraid of what spring will bring.

I believe I am going into this spring strong and stable. I have help from my psychiatrist, my therapist, and, most of all, my husband and family. I am starting a new job, which can be stressful, but I believe this job will be enjoyable and less stress-inducing then my previous high-paying, high-pressure previous job.

I’m not sure if you too suffer from the season change and the disruption of your circadian rhythms, but I often wish I lived at the equator, where I sometimes think that the adjustment will be easier and less dramatic.

Here are some suggestions from my doctor that may help, as well as some things I have learned over the years:

  • Wear dark sunglasses and a baseball cap when the sun is shining bright
  • Try to avoid over-stimulation (for me, even the return of the spring songbirds can be irritating)
  • Make your house dark if possible beginning at 6 p.m. and don’t engage in outdoor activities after 6 p.m.
  • Use dark, opaque curtains
  • Have PRN medication at your disposal (I often increase my Seroquel as needed during these times)
  • As usual, don’t drink alcohol and limit your coffee
  • My doctor had a new one for me– take melatonin three hours before bed
  • Keep your sleep schedule exactly the same (don’t even change your wake-up time on the weekends)
  • Use your therapist to your advantage (I also call a free, anonymous counseling hotline as needed)
  • Avoid stress and your known triggers (if possible)
  • Keep your support system close and make sure they are aware of what’s happening (for example, it’s really important for me not to have my husband leave town for work during this time because it bumps me off my routine)
  • Keep a budget and give financial control to your partner or someone who is in your support system if you feel like you are starting to act impulsively
  • Be self-aware– watch out for those racing thoughts
  • Eat healthy and avoid too much sugar (sugar makes me go up and then crash)
  • I use essential oils, like melissa (lemon balm), lavender and Roman chamomile
  • Remember and practice your spirituality, if you are so inclined
  • Remember that spring can be hard for all bipolar people and that it is not your fault

I know we can never be “perfect” but maybe we can do our best to make it easier on ourselves through self-love, self-compassion and gentle self-care (like the ideas above) during our times of struggle.

 

 

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