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'Spring mania' impacts people with bipolar disorder and can be life-threatening. A therapist shared how she preps for the season every year.

Spring flowers in a field as the sun sets
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  • People with bipolar disorder may experience "spring mania" between winter and summer.

  • Changes in daylight and circadiam rhythm can trigger manic episodes.

  • A therapist shared the warning signs, and how sleep and structure help mitigate symptoms.

Ushering in warmer weather and brighter evenings, spring is often synonymous with optimism and peacefulness.

But for some people, the season can trigger the opposite feelings. People with bipolar disorder might be vulnerable to "spring mania," or manic episodes in the springtime.

Claudia Skowron, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Illinois, told Business Insider that people with bipolar disorder oscillate between manic and depressive episodes. She said manic episodes typically last a week or longer and are characterized by "racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep, impulsivity, grandiose thinking, irritability, and rapid speech."

The reason spring can trigger manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder is because they're more sensitive to light and circadian rhythm shifts, Skowron said.

"Not only do we begin to get more daylight naturally just due to the Earth's rotation, but in many parts of the US, we also have daylight savings, which adds an additional hour of daylight," she said. "All this actually really happens rather quickly and creates this misalignment."

While daylight savings impacts many people's health, Skowron said the symptoms in people with bipolar disorder can be extra heightened. She shared the signs to watch out for, as well as how she preps her clients and colleagues for the season, which she said lasts from mid-March through May.

The risks include life-threatening behavior

Skowron said the worst-case scenario for a patient is suicide, because there's "actually a significant increase in manic episodes that could lead to suicidality in the springtime."

Manic episodes trigger impulsivity, and patients who are not properly medicated or in therapy are at greater risk of attempting suicide. "That's kind of the part that we have to look out for most," she said.

Skowron said she has a very collaborative relationship with the psychiatrists who work with her patients, and that there's sometimes a "temporary increase" in medications around springtime.

If she starts to notice symptoms in a patient, she might bump up their sessions to twice a week for the time being.

Patients learn to spot the warning signs

One of the best defenses against spring mania is noticing your patterns, Skowron said. "If there's a past history of springtime struggles, there's a pretty good chance that this can happen again," she said. For example, if a person has a history of impulsive behavior, she might ask them to make a list of any changes they're experiencing. Are they going to bed later? Do they have a sudden burst of energy? These check-ins can help them "stay ahead of the curve" and get treatment before an episode, she said.

With clients who experience spring mania every year, Skowron helps them come up with a plan to mitigate symptoms. "Maybe that is a vacation, maybe that is investing into another hobby to direct that energy into something else that can be a little bit more productive," she said.

Sleep and structure are key

To reduce symptoms around the springtime, Skowron said she stresses a consistent sleep routine.

"Sleep is a key player when it comes to mood disorders," she said. "It's really crucial to create healthy sleep routines — going to bed at the same time each night, waking up at the same time each morning."

She recommends that patients invest in supplements like melatonin, blackout curtains, or a good sleep mask if they have trouble falling asleep or waking up.

At the same time, she's careful not to overly anticipate a manic episode for a patient, "because weirdly, that can trigger one," she said. Her focus is on providing patients with the education and resources they need to spot symptoms and add structure to their lives, "but also making sure that we're not feeding into a self-fulfilled prophecy" and creating spring mania.

People with bipolar disorder face a lot of stigma, and Skowron said it's never good to assume someone will have a manic episode just because of their diagnosis. "It's more of: 'Here are options, and let's take it week-by-week and see where you're at," she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider