Many prominent psychologists and counselors are employing Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy (MiCBT) as a practical approach for their clients. In particular, therapists are using this technique more and more for bipolar disorder.
This should not be limited to therapists and professionals in the mental health field. There’s no reason why anyone who is afflicted by bipolar disorder can’t apply mindfulness and reduce its symptoms within the comfort of their own home.
Mindfulness focuses on the here and now using our senses to become present in the moment. Many times during the day we experience the same mundane tasks and our brain unknowingly goes to autopilot.
Picture your drive home from work. Every single day. The same route. Passing by the same streets and houses and buildings. You’ve got the radio on the same station, as always, and your mind is off somewhere in the distance. By the time you get home you have no real recollection of the drive or how you got from point A to point B, but you did. On autopilot.
And during that drive you probably spaced out and thought about a ton of things. Perhaps you revisited an unpleasant conversation with your boss and thought about all the things you wish you would have said. Or you could have been scrambling your brain trying to figure out what to cook for dinner as you forgot to lay out something this morning. Whatever the case, you weren’t in the moment.
Mindfulness helps us control where are thoughts go and how to reel them back in when they slip back into autopilot. It helps us to become aware of sensations and thoughts and emotions occurring right now.
Mindfulness for bipolar specifically helps stop:
- The “Autopilot” cycle.
- Worrying about the future.
- Reliving the past.
- Regretting decisions long past.
- Obsessive thinking.
Bipolar, as you are probably aware, has peaks and valleys of complex moods. These can be similar to anxiety and depression symptoms. However, in bipolar these moods are much more prominent and can even encompass delusional thinking. The depressive symptoms can be extreme and boundless, often including thoughts of suicidal ideation.
To get control of these moods would be life-changing for those dealing with bipolar disorder.
Potential benefits of mindfulness for bipolar:
- Improved attention and focus.
- Decreased worry and rumination.
- Less emotional reactivity.
- Greater self-compassion.
- Better stress management.
This isn’t an easy way out or a fix-all solution to every symptom. Employing mindfulness takes times to develop the techniques unique to your situation, to your particular set of needs. It’s a daily practice, not something you can just pick up and try out whenever you have a break and need a little bit more help.
But the great news is, it does work. Maybe it won’t eliminate all of your symptoms or stop an episode of mania from happening, but if the mood could be even a little less intense and frightening, mindfulness is worth it.
Getting started with mindfulness practices is much like anything else, you jump in and find what fits for your lifestyle. The first and easiest step is to find the anchor that works best for you.
Common Mindfulness Meditation Anchors
- Breathing – counting inhalations/exhalations
- Body sensation – paying close attention to how your body is feeling right this second, wherever you are, how your feet feel, legs, arms, neck, face… everything. Are you sore? Energized? Exhausted? Hot or cold?
- Mantra – a set or words or phrase on repeat either out loud or in your head.
- Movement – a meditation walk or some stretching exercises, or even yoga.
The point of the anchor is having something you can mentally grab hold of and create an unbreakable focus. If your mind moves and slips into autopilot, gently pull yourself back to your anchor. It’s going to happen, again and again.
The goal is to be in control of your mindfulness experience. Accept what’s going on in the present moment even if it’s uncomfortable and realize it’s fleeting. It will pass. You’ll give yourself less attachment to the storm brewing because of the bipolar and be able to focus more on working through the sensations and mindful decision making.
It takes time to develop a good mindfulness for bipolar routine, and lots of practice. The outcome is worth the time spent. Not only will you feel better about your bipolar symptoms and moods, but mindfulness will spill over into your everyday life offering an overall peace and confidence.