Driven to Distraction by Bipolar Disorder
If you find it hard to concentrate, controlling mood swings can help. There are also some tips you can use to reduce stress, get more sleep, and stay organized.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Lack of concentration is a common symptom of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder find they are easily distracted or feel lost and confused whether they are at home, at work, or in school.
Being unable to concentrate can be a problem because it makes it hard for people with bipolar disorder to perform tasks such as grocery shopping or preparing meals, or to enjoy activities such as playing a game or watching television. Young people with bipolar disorder may have trouble in school or when studying or reading. The symptom also can put the person with bipolar disorder at risk for injury — accidents happen when people aren’t paying attention.
Distracted by Mood Swings
People with bipolar disorder experience mood swings — they go from episodes of very high energy to extreme lows of depression. When depressed, people often do not concentrate as well. They may have trouble thinking and making decisions. Almost anything can become a distraction when they are down.
The key to improving concentration and avoiding distraction is controlling mood swings. Bipolar disorder is commonly treated with mood-stabilizing medications. It is important that people with bipolar disorder who are on medications take them as prescribed.
At the same time, it is possible that medications can contribute to attention problems. Certain medications have been shown to make it more difficult to concentrate and to learn. People with bipolar disorder should talk to their doctor if they find their medications are making their ability to concentrate worse. Their doctor may be able to adjust the medications to resolve the problem.
Lack of Sleep and Stress Can Affect Concentration
People also can lose their ability to concentrate when they are extremely tired, and people with bipolar disorder can have trouble sleeping, especially if they are in a depressed state. If you want to improve your concentration, try to get enough sleep. To get a good night’s sleep, you should go to bed and wake up the same time every night — weekdays and weekends. Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature for sleeping.
Stress also can cause a lack of concentration, and people with bipolar disorder may feel as though they are under a lot of stress.
Here are some tips to help those with bipolar disorder control stress and get organized:
- Manage your time.Don’t try to do too much. Say no if you can’t do it.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle.Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Eat only low-fat meats and poultry. Get regular exercise, which can have both mental and physical health benefits. Avoid caffeine.
- Learn relaxation techniques.These include breathing exercises, yoga, and massage. Remember to balance periods of activity with periods of relaxation.
- Keep a daily planner.It will help you to remember appointments and commitments.
- Seek support from family and friends.Spend time talking and listening to each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Choose a support group you can trust to tell you the truth even if it’s not what you want to hear.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.Taking drugs and alcohol may lessen the effectiveness of your bipolar medications and lead to potentially dangerous side effects.
- Get in a routine.A daily schedule can add structure to your life, and structure can help you cope with stress.
Lack of concentration is a common symptom of bipolar disorder. To control it, seek proper treatment for your mood swings. Also, be sure to get enough sleep and learn to limit stress.
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