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Coping with Bipolar Disorder Triggers: Strategies for Relapse Prevention

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 40 million people experience difficulties with bipolar disorder, particularly bipolar I. Moreover, relapse is a common risk factor for individuals with bipolar disorder. As noted in the Psychiatry Journal, relapse is a challenging treatment factor in mental health and is particularly prevalent in bipolar disorder due to factors such as poor adherence to treatment plans and relapse prevention strategies. Thus, engaging in strategies for bipolar disorder triggers can play a significant role in building adaptive coping skills to support your long-term recovery.

At The Guest House, we believe in holistic healing as an effective path to whole-person and long-lasting recovery. While bipolar disorder does not have a cure, you do not have to spend your life getting by or being overwhelmed by your symptoms. Through our holistic approach to care, we are committed to working in collaboration with you to build a customized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs. With support, you can build the tools you need to cope in healthier ways for your well-being and independence.

The increased risk for relapse and the lack of a cure for bipolar disorder can understandably leave you feeling worried or demoralized. However, long-term recovery is possible with support and psychoeducation. By expanding your knowledge of your bipolar disorder triggers, you can learn how to recognize factors for potential relapse. With increased knowledge of bipolar disorder triggers, you give yourself more insight into yourself and how your experiences impact your well-being.

Access to recovery resources will empower you to deepen your self-awareness and self-understanding of your specific needs for healing. Then, learning about bipolar disorder triggers can give you the adaptive coping strategies you need to live an independent and fulfilling life. Through holistic care, you can heal in mind, body, and spirit as you understand how your experiences impact your symptoms. The first step toward building an independent life in recovery is understanding what having bipolar disorder means for your life specifically. Although, everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently, knowing the basics of the disorder can help you better understand your specific challenges.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

While everyone experiences changes in their mood, bipolar disorder reflects more extreme mood changes that you have little control over. As stated by Medline Plus, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder in which you experience intense episodes of mood swings. The extreme ups and downs in mood in bipolar disorder are called manic episodes and depressive episodes. Typically, you will experience episodes in cycles, with manic and depressive episodes happening separately. However, you can also experience mixed episodes in which you experience manic and depressive symptoms at the same time. In addition, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), states some individuals may experience hypomanic episodes, which are like manic episodes but less severe.

When left untreated, bipolar disorder can be detrimental to your daily life. Drastic shifts in mood can make it difficult to respond to different situations and interactions in healthy ways. Moreover, it is difficult to function in your daily life as your concentration, energy, and activity levels are impaired. Thus, learning to manage bipolar disorder triggers starts with understanding what type of bipolar disorder you have and what symptoms you may be experiencing.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Four basic types of bipolar disorders share similar symptoms but have significant differences in the extent of mood states and duration. Listed below are the four different types of bipolar disorders:

  • Bipolar I disorder:
    • Manic episodes typically last at least 7 days
    • Can experience depressive episodes which can last for two weeks
    • Mixed episodes can occur
    • May experience rapid cycling if 4 or more manic or depressive episodes happen in a year
  • Cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia):
    • Experiences both hypomanic and depressive episodes
    • Episodes are not as severe or last as long as the symptoms in bipolar I and bipolar II
  • Bipolar II disorder:
    • Experiences depressive episodes
      • Episodes can be as severe as major depressive disorder (MDD) and/or bipolar I
    • Does not experience the extreme of manic episodes in bipolar I
      • Rather experiences hypomanic episodes which are less severe
  • Other specified and unspecified bipolar disorder:
    • Experiences significant and unusual shifts in mood
    • Does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymia

In addition to the differences in types of bipolar disorder, understanding the symptoms of each type of episode can support deeper self-understanding. Listed below are some of the common symptoms found in manic, depressive, and mixed episodes:

  • Manic episodes: Characterized by intense feelings of excitement, happiness, and euphoria
    • Feeling extremely irritable and or short-tempered
    • An excessive amount of energy
    • Racing thoughts
    • Easily distracted
    • Rapid speech and or more talkative
    • Feeling like you can do many things at once without rest
    • Decreased need for sleep
    • Inflated sense of self-esteem
    • Increased impulsivity and risk-taking
  • Depressive episodes: Characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
    • Loneliness
    • Self-isolating
    • Suicidal ideation
    • Having little to no energy
    • Slowed speech
    • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
    • Decreased interest in activities
    • Sleep issues
    • Eating issues
  • Mixed episodes: Characterized by symptoms of both manic and depressive episodes
    • Feeling sad or hopeless and energized at the same time

Regardless of severity, the symptoms of each type of bipolar disorder can be deeply distressing and impede your ability to lead a fulfilling life. It can be particularly distressing when you have difficulties recognizing your bipolar disorder symptoms. Thus, the challenges of bipolar disorder can impair everyday functioning in your relationships and at home, work, and school. Moreover, as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes, bipolar mood swings can also impact your judgment and behaviors, which can impede adherence to treatment and recovery. For example, the symptoms of a manic episode can lead you to believe you no longer need to take medication.

On the other hand, depressive episodes may leave you feeling so down that it feels impossible to imagine ever feeling better. If you cannot recognize that your distress in a depressive episode is not forever, it becomes easier to engage in unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns. Therefore, the challenges of intense mood swings highlight the importance of recognizing bipolar disorder triggers for long-term healing.

Addressing the Difference Between Risk Factors and Triggers

Learning how to recognize bipolar disorder triggers is an important step toward treatment adherence and increased quality of life. On the surface, you may confuse risk triggers with risk factors when it comes to addressing bipolar disorder triggers. While both risk factors and triggers are important to be aware of, there are distinctive differences that must be understood to support wellness in your daily life.

As SAMHSA notes, risk factors are the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural characteristics associated with an increased risk for negative health outcomes. Risk factors are a reflection of external and internal conditions that may increase your risk for a negative occurrence. For example, smoking can increase your risk for cancer and other poor health outcomes compared to someone who does not smoke.

Whereas, risk triggers are typically an incident or a condition that can directly cause harm to an individual. Many risk factors and triggers can overlap with each other, but not every risk factor is a trigger for a particular outcome. For example, having a parent with asthma is a factor that increases your risk of having asthma; yet, having a parent with asthma is not a trigger for an asthma attack.

A Bipolar disorder trigger, much like an asthma attack is triggered by bad weather, is an event that sets off a new mood episode. Thus, recognizing your bipolar disorder triggers can help you learn what tools you need to cope before bipolar disorder triggers happen.

Common Bipolar Disorder Triggers

Some common bipolar disorder triggers you may experience in your daily life include:

  • Negative and positive life events
    • Distress and eustress
      • Feeling overwhelmed or unbalanced by stress from negative and positive life events
        • Health issues
        • Loss of a loved one
        • Divorce/breakups
        • Getting married/commitment ceremony
        • Pressures at work, school, and or home
        • Job loss/unemployment
        • Promotions or starting a new job
        • Financial challenges
        • Moving to a new place
        • Becoming a parent
  • Relationship conflicts
    • Negative interactions with friends and family
  • External overstimulation
    • Crowded places
    • Social events
    • Clutter
    • Bright lights
  • Internal overstimulation
    • Caffeine
  • Disruption of sleeping patterns
    • Working unusual hours
    • Parenting
    • Jet lag
    • Special social events
  • Disruptions to routine
    • Irregular sleeping patterns
    • Lack of regular activities
  • Poor nutrition
    • Lack of nutritious food
    • Eating at irregular times
  • Substance use and misuse
    • Alcohol misuse
    • Drug misuse
  • Weather changes
    • Changes in temperature
    • Rainy weather
    • Challenges with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Hormonal changes
    • Pregnancy
    • Menopause
  • Co-occurring disorders and conditions
    • Substance use disorder (SUD)
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Personality disorders

Looking at some common bipolar disorder triggers can help you get to know your specific bipolar disorder triggers. Once you engage in self-monitoring along with the support of your clinicians and loved ones, you can learn coping tools to prevent relapse.

Learning to Cope With Bipolar Disorder Triggers

During and after treatment, learning how to engage in self-monitoring is an important recovery and relapse prevention tool. Through self-monitoring, you can be an active participant in your long-term recovery to effectively cope with bipolar disorder triggers. As noted in the Journal of Affective Disorders, maladaptive strategies of behavioral disengagement like giving up and self-blame can make recognizing and managing symptoms of bipolar disorder difficult. However, as the Centre for Clinical Intervention (CCI) states in Keeping your Balance: Coping with Bipolar Disorder, self-monitoring can help you recognize bipolar disorder triggers and early warning signs of an episode to prevent and or reduce symptoms.

Being aware of your bipolar disorder triggers is the first step toward building resilience to manage symptoms and prevent relapse. Yet, recognizing your bipolar disorder triggers alone is not enough if you continue to engage in the same unhealthy patterns or ignore your bipolar disorder triggers. Fortunately, self-monitoring can give you the tools to learn how to build long-term adaptive coping strategies to manage symptoms and bipolar disorder triggers.

Understanding Sef-Monitoring

Self-monitoring includes mood monitoring and symptom monitoring. You can engage in mood monitoring by creating a mood journal to identify your different moods and patterns in mood fluctuations. In addition, symptom monitoring is another method that can help you become more aware of the specific signs and symptoms of your bipolar disorder triggers and episodes. Listed below are some ways to engage in mood monitoring and symptom monitoring:

  • Mood monitoring:
    • Monitor daily
      • How do you feel today?
        • Low mood
        • High mood
    • Note the circumstances in which you experience a low or high mood
    • Rate your mood around the same time every day
  • Symptom monitoring
    • Monitor daily
    • Identify signs and symptoms of depressive, manic, and mixed episodes
      • Depressed mood
      • Feeling worthless or guilty
      • Unable to concentrate or make decisions
      • Increased focus on goal-directed activities
    • Keep track of the frequency of your symptoms
    • Note the circumstances in which you experience symptoms

Mood and symptom monitoring for bipolar disorder triggers gives you the tools to build an action plan for your well-being. Although everyone’s specific experiences and symptoms are unique, understanding your bipolar disorder triggers gives you and your loved ones a foundation to lead a fulfilling life. Whether your action plan involves talking to your healthcare provider or asking your loved ones to check in, you are taking great preventive steps for management and relapse.

Here are some coping strategies you can explore incorporating into your action plan to support long-lasting recovery:

  • Maintain balance with a routine
    • Continue to engage in activities
      • Write down a few fun activities to do regularly
        • Spend time in nature
        • Paint your nails
        • Spend time with loved ones
        • Do a jigsaw puzzle
      • List a couple of simple tasks you can do every week
        • Cook or bake
        • Go for a drive
        • Wash your hair


  • Keep a thought journal
    • Write down distressing experiences
    • What went through your head during the interaction
    • Reframe the situation
      • Consider other perspectives
        • What facts have you potentially overlooked?


  • Build a sleep routine for daily life, and sleep disruption triggers
    • Wake up and go to sleep at the same time
    • Bring comfort items with you
      • Favorite pillow/plushie
      • White noise/soundscapes
    • Avoid or minimize nap time
    • Do not engage in high activity for bedtime
    • Avoid consuming caffeine before bedtime
    • Bedtime routine
      • Relaxation and or calming exercises
        • Light stretching/yoga
        • Meditation
        • Listen to music


  • Stress management
    • List the things that have consumed your physical, emotional, and mental energy
      • Organize the list by the most energy-consuming to the least
    • Identify external and internal coping resources
      • External resources
        • Reach out for support
          • Loved ones
          • Healthcare providers
        • Evidence-based strategies
          • Psychoeducation
        • Access to services
          • Financial
          • Transportation


      • Internal resources
        • A sense of humor
        • Ability to reach out for support
        • Willingness to accept help
        • Problem-solving skills
        • Recognize barriers to coping
          • Lack of information
          • Work and school pressure
          • Disruptions in schedule
          • Insufficient resources
            • Financial
            • Employment
            • Transportation
            • Housing
          • Impaired judgment
          • Self-defeating thinking patterns

Understanding and exploring coping tools to manage your bipolar disorder triggers and symptoms can be invaluable tools for your long-term healing. It is important to remember that building healthy coping skills does not happen overnight. Thus, experiencing setbacks is not a sign of failure, but an opportunity to reach out and continue to practice your new adaptive coping skills.

The more you practice healthy coping skills, the better adherence to treatment and recovery you can experience as you reinforce healthy thinking and behavior patterns. With a holistic approach to treatment and recovery, you have access to support that meets you where you are on your recovery journey. When your specific needs are taken into consideration, you are given the space to find the approach to healing that supports your specific experiences and needs.

Finding Support for Bipolar Disorder Triggers at The Guest House

At The Guest House, we know how impactful stress and trauma can have on your well-being and ability to cope with mental health challenges. Traumatic events are often at the root of the distress and difficulties you have recognizing and managing bipolar disorder triggers. Therefore, understanding the roots of your disorder and the bipolar disorder triggers for your symptoms can help dismantle those unhealthy patterns and manage your symptoms. Developing a deeper self-awareness and self-understanding gives you the space to build resiliency for your long-term independence.

Thus, at The Guest House, we are committed to providing a holistic approach to care that supports the whole of your parts. With holistic care, we can offer a wide range of evidence-based and experiential therapies like individual therapy, art therapy, meditation and yoga, and music therapy to support your specific needs. Through holistic care, you can work in collaboration with clinicians to build the treatment plan and long-lasting management skills that address your specific experiences and needs.

Unaddressed bipolar disorder triggers can impede your ability to live a fulfilling life in long-term recovery. When you are unaware of your potential episode triggers, it opens the door for a relapse of full-blown symptoms. However, with a holistic approach to care you can learn how to recognize your triggers and build adaptive coping skills to dismantle harmful patterns and manage your symptoms. Through holistic care, you have access to a variety of evidence-based and experiential therapies to address your specific experiences and needs for healing. Therefore, at The Guest House, we a committed to providing whole-person care to build a treatment and management plan to support your independence and long-term well-being. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more.