I’m tired.

Not “I didn’t get enough sleep last night” tired. I’m fatigued to the point of not being able to function. I’ve been incredibly busy and unable to keep to my normal routine. I’ve had long periods when I haven’t been able to have the downtime I need in order to keep myself from becoming overstimulated.

As a result, I’m an emotional mess relying solely on caffeine to keep me going. This is far from an ideal situation. Research has shown that people with bipolar disorder already have problems managing our emotions. Additional research has also shown that fatigue can make emotional regulation even more difficult.

Fatigue is a symptom most often experienced in depressive episodes of bipolar disorder. However, it can happen at any time. Fatigue can be physical, psychological, or both. Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Digestive distress (vomiting, diarrhea, nausea)
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Poor cognitive functioning

Emotional regulation is the process by which we can influence or control our own emotions. For example, if we’re angry, can we calm ourselves? If we’re experiencing something sad, can we keep ourselves under control?

People with bipolar disorder have been shown to have more trouble regulating emotions than the general population, possibly due to irregularities in the limbic system of the brain.

Everyone has limited resources to spend on regulating emotions. If you are concentrating on one task, it may be more difficult to control your emotions. This is especially true when you’re tired or fatigued. When you’re completely drained, it’s more difficult to control how you’re feeling. When you have bipolar disorder, it may take more energy to control mood and emotions anyway. So, when energy is depleted because of overwork, physical exhaustion, or overstimulation, managing emotions naturally takes a backseat.

When this happens, there are a few ways to attempt to regain control of our emotions, and you don’t have to be completely out of control to use them:

  • Be mindful. Assess your feelings and accept that you are having them and that is okay
  • Distract yourself with work or another project
  • Pay attention to negative thoughts to catch yourself before emotions get out of control
  • Attend therapy
  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling

Above all, when you are having trouble managing your emotions because of fatigue, you need to rest. Taking care of yourself is the best way to be able to manage not only your emotions, but bipolar disorder as a whole.

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Image credit: Kathryn Connell