The temperature is predicted to hit 62 degrees today, but last Thursday it was so cold that I swear it shocked me into a manic episode when I stepped outside to walk the dog.
It was 6 degrees out, with a wind-chill of -10. We are not used to temperatures that cold in Philadelphia, so when I opened the door and slipped into the frigid air my body tensed up and soon, before the dog did her business, my head began to ache.
Back inside I almost immediately felt the nervous excitement, unsettled fidget, and rush of thoughts that signal to me my mood is quickly changing. Fortunately, my neighbor drove my daughter to school. But I was left alone to deal with the onslaught of symptoms.
Normally I would fall into an intervention of protection worked out with my doctor. I’d take something to sleep and curl up in bed, or try to sit and meditate a bit or get out and take a walk. The walk was out of the question, and the retreat into sleep was made impossible since some people had come in to do some work in the house.
I went to another floor and paced around and tried to breathe. I did some jumping jacks but my quickening pulse only exacerbated my uneasiness. Everyone I could think to call was at work. I fell down on the floor and held on as the waves of anxiety crashed over me.
I warmed up. I settled down. It seemed as quickly as the episode began the energy seeped out of my body and the budding episode passed.
I met a doctor once who believed that changes in the weather could bring on episodes of mania or depression. He thought that soon we would be able to predict mood changes by wrenching changes in barometric pressure as completely as episodes could be signaled by changes in levels of serotonin.
But the research doesn’t support this.
Study after study fails to find a link between temperature changes, or changes in sea level barometric pressure, and mood changes in subjects with bipolar disorder.
One study reported to the NIH indicates that an increase in temperature could move a person in a depressed mood into a manic episode, but the research has not been replicated and the study’s methodology has been called into question.
The peer review of the study says that the effect of natural sunlight variations on the subjects, as well as the effect of changes in sleep patterns as the weather becomes uncomfortably warm, would have to be controlled for if the study were to be conclusive.
So there’s no accepted scientific evidence that maintains that weather will force someone with bipolar disorder from a normal mood into a manic mood, and dropping temperatures appear to have little or no influence on mood changes.
So what happened to me?
Episodes are often a stress response, and the sudden change from 68 degrees inside to -10 outside certainly suddenly and seriously stressed my system. So while the temperature itself may not have impacted me, maybe the tightening and shivering and discomfort of that morning’s walk, the stress of the whole event, set me up for a spike in mood.
And maybe the removal of the stressor as I went back inside where it was warm enabled me to calm down and to allow the episode to pass.
While the research does not indicate that the cold itself caused my mood change, much research confirms that serious stress can bring about a manic episode. Physical stress can have the same impact as emotional stress.
And getting hit in the face with the polar vortex was certainly a physical stressor.
So I’m going to enjoy the weather today and prepare for when the temperature goes down again later this week. It’s not predicted to be near as cold as what we experienced last week, so I’m sure I’ll be fine.
I do what I can to avoid stress whenever possible, but stress, physical and emotional, continues to pile on. And no matter what I do to protect myself, the dog still needs to go out.
Even when it’s -10.