Just when you think the weather is done wreaking havoc on your moods, here comes summer with all it’s heat and sunshine.

After winter depression and spring mania, mood swings should be the last thing you’re dealing with but a surprising number of people with bipolar disorder claim that summer is one of the worst times of year for them.

The seasons really can affect bipolar disorder.


What is Summer Mania?

Summer mania can be a problem.

According to John Preston MD “For many people who have bipolar disorder, too much light exposure can provoke mania and too little can lead to depression…this is why hospitalizations for mania peak in the summer, and for depression in the late fall.”

Mania and its severity will depend on the individual, along with the type of bipolar disorder. Mania in Bipolar 1 is more severe than the hypomania that often appears with Bipolar 2.

For some, with bipolar type 2, the hypomania can seem beneficial. Tackling multiple tasks seems easy, and there often is a “thrill” when you get everything and more accomplished. Hypomania also doesn’t always bring about rash decisions or noticeably abnormal behavior, and this is one of the reasons why it is often mistaken for depression instead of a type of bipolar disorder.1

When it comes to mania in Bipolar type 1, you still have that same feeling of “never ending energy” and often a few other “issues”. For some it can include making poor choices that can have a long lasting negative effect on their lives.

Summer mania is most common with people that already experience depression during the fall and winter. However, it is important to not confuse Bipolar summer mania with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). If depression is a problem during the summer, you might want to talk to your physician or psychiatrist about SAD. The medications used to treat these two mood disorders can vary and this is important if you also experience a form a mania.


Common Triggers

The triggers for summer mania are often the same as those for a “regular” manic episode, though there are often a few other ones that only seem to happen during warm months.

Did you know that the sun can trigger mania? The longer days almost beg you to be more productive, but then you have to deal with the heat. This can lead to frustration, after all no one wants to work outside when the temperatures are 80˚ to 90˚ and higher. This often leads to trying to tackle other tasks or making poor life choices since you feel like you have to do something.

There are some other things that can bring on a manic episode that often include the stressors of:

  • Planning a vacation
  • Traveling with friends, family or even by yourself
  • Attending BBQ’s, picnics or other “get-togethers”
  • Trying to plan a summer party or event

For some, even dealing with a trip to the beach or neighborhood swimming pool is enough to trigger an episode. Any stress or change in routine, even if the activity is fun and diverting, can potentially trigger an episode.

Many Bipolar suffers state that it is the stress they feel during the summer that brings on mania. It’s the feeling that they need to entertain and stay busy, even though this is slated as “the time of the year to relax”. This can be especially true for parents with bipolar disorder.

Trying to keep kids, especially younger children entertained during their summer vacation can cause stress that could trigger mania.


Can You Prevent Mania in the Summer?

Preventing “summer mania” isn’t always possible but there are ways that you can manage the stress. It can even be possible to ignore the nagging feeling that you need to stay busy just because the days are longer.

Some of these tips are pretty basic and should already be a part of your daily regime, while others may be something that you hadn’t thought of before.

  1. Getting enough sleep at night cannot be stressed enough. While it is often not possible to get the “recommended” 8 hours a night, you do need to rest. Not only will it give you the time you need to relax and unwind, when your regular schedule is thrown off due to extended daylight hours it could cause a destabilization in your moods.
  2. Don’t overuse alcohol. There are some great adult summer drinks that can make anyone’s mouth water. However, the alcohol in them can, and often does, interact with your current bipolar medication/s. Not only is there the possibility of an interaction, alcohol can also cause mania and lead you to act “out of character”.
  3. Stay away from major projects. Summer is NOT the time to clean out or organize your garage. You also don’t want to build an outdoor playhouse or finally that shed you’ve always wanted. Not only will the heat get to you but also there is the added stress. The frustration and discomfort alone are enough to make you irritable and manic.
  4. Remember your health. Warm weather and all the activities it brings does not give you a “pass” on taking care of your health. This is the perfect time to indulge in local fresh fruits and veggies, you need the vitamins and minerals they contain. You also don’t want to forget about getting in some exercise. It can release those “feel good” endorphins that might prevent mania. Just remember whatever you do, moderation is key. If you feel (or someone you trust mentions to you) that you might be taking a “healthy lifestyle” too far it could be a sign of the start of manic or hypomanic episode.
  5. Social Support is key. Anytime of the year, especially during summer when you always feel like there is something you need to accomplish. Talk to your support group, therapist, friends and family. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to let them know that this is a potentially risky time of the year for you. It is always better to be slightly embarrassed before it turns into full-blown mania. The “after results” could be much worse.
  6. Talk to your mental health care provider. Creating a plan if you feel your energy levels soaring could be one of the best things you do this summer. Not only does it take some of the “what if” pressure of you, it also allows you to enjoy the summer and all the fun activities of the season.
  7. Remember to relax. It’s summertime. Just relax, even if it is only for a few minutes each day. Sip a glass of ice-tea or water, and just take time for yourself. You deserve it. Catch up on a TV show or read the latest summer book. Whatever causes you to “unplug”, DO IT. You deserve a bit of summer vacation too.

One key point to remember is that this is also a time for you. Enjoy a week off from work, even if you don’t go anywhere or do anything. You don’t always have to be on someone else’s schedule this summer.

However, if you feel overpowered by a mania don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Melvin G McInnis, MD states “I often liken an acute episode of bipolar disorder to a heart attack or other medical emergency: immediate attention could save your life.”


Enjoy the Sunshine with Bipolar Disorder

Okay, so you have bipolar disorder. This doesn’t mean that you have to darken the windows and avoid the bright sunny days. Extended sunlight does not mean that a manic episode is right around the corner.

You deserve to enjoy the summer. Everyone does, after all it should be a time to relax and spend time with family and friends. At the least, it should be when you should take a little time for yourself.

Mania happens. It is one part of this mood disorder but it does not have to completely control your life. You can take charge.2

Write or start a journal and keep track of your triggers. Create your own schedule, don’t let others always tell you what you need to do or where you should be.

While you probably have responsibilities, you can still make time for yourself. DO IT, and don’t feel guilty. Read that book, swing in a hammock or just relax in a favorite chair. It’s the summer and chances are what you “think” needs to be done right now isn’t that important. What is important is YOUR HEALTH, both mental and physical.

As always if you ever feel like your mood is “out of control”, talk to your mental health care provider and your support group. They can help.

We also look forward to reading any of your comments and suggestions for future posts. Please let us know what you are interested in learning and reading about.