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My Top 5 Bipolar Disorder Triggers

Sleeping in red HeatMood swings are often “triggered” by an event or symptom.

The type of trigger is variable, depending on the person.

In having bipolar disorder, being aware of one’s triggers can help prevent mood swings and even hospital stays.

My top five personal triggers are listed below. I have to pay attention to each of these factors in order to stay well.

Sleep (Or Lack Thereof)

I have to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night in order to function with this disorder.

No, that’s not a preference. It is a requirement that I have discovered and learned to regulate.

If I don’t sleep enough, I am irritable and exhausted. My brain does not function as well, and I am also prone to depression. Sometimes, I get headaches that last throughout the next day. My head may feel stuffy.

If I sleep too much, I also get depressed and lethargic. It eventually becomes a habit to sleep in as long as I can, and it leaves me feeling groggy throughout the day.

If I change my hours and time of sleep, even the slightest bit, I will notice a difference the next day—both in energy level and mood.

Unlike many others, I have to keep a sleep routine. I know from years of experience that I should get into bed between 9:30 and 11:00 each night. Anything past that can set off a mood swing. It’s better for me to go to bed earlier than normal rather than later, but sleeping too much can still have ill effects that last for days on end.

I am in my 20’s, but it’s easy to feel old when some concerts are too late and when late night social events are difficult.

However, I realize my limits and I don’t make myself feel guilty.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, and I must abide by my physical cues.

It is hard for people to grasp that, especially when mental illness is considered “invisible”.

How are such tangible effects connected to a psychiatric condition?

Trust me, any change in sleep can have ill effects.

Stress at Work

A change in normal routine can also be a big trigger for myself and many people with bipolar disorder.

If a work day is more busy, difficult, or variable than normal, it can cause a depressed or mixed mood episode.

The best way to handle this is to frame my experiences with positive thoughts and to eliminate as much stress in other parts of my day as possible.

For example, if I have a stressful work day, it is best for me to go home and relax, wind down, and maybe go to sleep earlier than usual.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that my stressful day will be gone tomorrow. I get so wound up that I let a stressful work day ruin my entire day—even once I’m home.

Working with my therapist helps me re-frame and work through my stress issues, which helps control my mood swings in the long run.

Stress at Home

Similar to work, stress at home can have a negative impact on my moods.

If I argue with my husband or deal with unexpected personal issues, my tendency is to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and again, irritable.

I let my stress spill into other areas of my life and ultimately make me sick, both physically and mentally.

Stress like this can have a lasting impact on my health.

Therapy is a great tool to learn how to cope with stress at home.

Mood swings will still occur when it comes to personal and relationship stress, and that’s par for the course with bipolar disorder, unfortunately.

However, the key is the word “cope”.

It is a constant battle, controlling the thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings that come with this type of stress.

The ability to cope is always something that can be improved, which I hope to continue to do.


As you can tell by now, people with bipolar disorder are often creatures of habit.

Besides those described above, changes such as a new job, a move to another city, getting married, or even traveling to another time zone can have an impact on one’s mood.

Even positive changes can have a negative impact on mood.

For instance, I got a new job in December in which I now make more money and have achieved a milestone in my career.

However, even though that is an extremely positive thing that I am very proud of, I have still been dealing with depression and mixed moods due to the new commute, time schedule, and list of responsibilities.

I perform every day without fail, but I can still personally tell the difference. The change has been quite an adjustment.

Forgetting a Dose

If I miss a day of medication, I will notice the consequences, either the next day or a couple of days after.

One day of medication lost can cause me to feel physical withdrawal symptoms and symptoms of depression.

Just like a physical-based illness, medication is needed every single day.

I have learned from experience just how important it is to be medication-compliant.


What are your biggest triggers? How have you learned to manage them? 


Photo Credit:  Thomas Lieser via Compfight

My Top 5 Bipolar Disorder Triggers

Kat Dawkins

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APA Reference
Dawkins, K. (2014). My Top 5 Bipolar Disorder Triggers. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Feb 2014
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