How do you cope with rapid cycling as it changes day to day. I am working closely with my doctor as he is making changes in meds. In the meantime, how do I weather the storm until things calm?

Rapid mood changes and mixed states (depression and mania/agitation at the same time) can be very distressing and disruptive. And finding the right medication usually does involve some trial-and-error. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to reduce and manage the mood swings.
Research shows that keeping a regular daily schedule can be a “natural mood stabilizer”—reducing mood swings and making them more manageable. When you think about your daily schedule, there are some specific things to focus on:

  • Sleep Cycle: A regular sleeping schedule is one of the most important things you can do to stabilize your mood. You can’t necessarily control whether you fall asleep or stay asleep, but you can control when you get up in the morning and whether you stay out of bed during the day. If you can stay on schedule with those things, your sleeping should settle into a more regular schedule.
  • Physical Activity: Try to schedule some kind of exercise or physical activity at a regular time each day. Any type of physical activity is good, and the best type of exercise is the kind that you will actually do.
  • Social Activity: Try to schedule some contact every day (face-to-face is best) with one of the positive people in your life. It’s best to schedule something before noon (to get you active) and not schedule lots of things late in the day (to prevent getting too activated).

If you are experiencing rapid mood swings, keeping a regular schedule is much easier said than done. Sticking to a schedule often means doing the opposite of what your brain and body seem to want. On days when you feel low or slowed down, it can take a big effort to activate and motivate yourself to get out of bed, exercise, and interact with people. On days when you feel over-energized or speeded up, it can take a big effort to limit your activity to a healthy or safe level. You can use DBSA’s personal wellness tools to identify the daily routines that are healthy for you and keep track of your routines from day to day.

It’s also important to mention things NOT to do. Alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs are probably at the top of the list of things to avoid. It can seem that alcohol or drugs help to slow things down when you feel speeded up—or help blunt painful feelings of depression. But we know that any “helpful” effects of alcohol or other drugs are an illusion. Using alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs when you are experiencing rapid mood shifts will not help and is likely to make things worse.

About the Doc

About the Doc

Greg Simon, MD, MPH, is a psychiatrist and researcher at  Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. His research focuses on improving the quality and availability of mental health services for people living with mood disorders, and he has a specific interest in activating consumers to expect and demand more effective mental health care.