Mental Wellness: Positive Psychology for Bipolar Disorder

Author: Cassandra Miasnikov

Tips to Cultivate Inner Strengths and Lessen The Risk of Relapse

Pessimism can sneak up on any of us. But if you’re someone living with bipolar disorder, there’s a higher chance that you see the glass as half empty. Positive psychology appeals to positive people by nature. But where does that leave those of us who are not naturally optimistic?

For years, the focus of psychology was to diagnose and treat psychopathological issues. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the concept of positive psychology, an offshoot of clinical psychology that transferred the focus of mental health from problems to solutions. Rather than only offering tactics for when something goes awry, positive psychology focuses on improving day-to-day life and cultivating inner strengths to help people flourish wherever they’re at in their mental health journey.

There’s always room for improvement, and much of positive psychology is based around the idea of developing and capitalizing on existing strengths, as opposed to focusing on covering up potential deficiencies.

Where Does Pessimism Come from?

We were equipped with pessimism by Mother Nature to keep us out of harm’s way. This negativity bias works by overestimating potential threats, teaching us to home in on any perceived danger. Imagine your brain narrowing in like a zoom lens, blurring out the big picture. This might save your life in an emergency. But when focusing primarily on the bad becomes a part of your daily routine, your brain is actually building blind spots against potential good.

Positive Psychology and Bipolar Disorder

Researchers have known for years that employees diagnosed with bipolar disorder often give negative information more importance than positive news, which leads to pessimistic views that worsen their bipolar symptoms.

New research may be able to predict bipolar relapse, helping us to intervene with strengths-based skills and social support in time. According to one recent study at the University of Parma, before symptomatic relapse occurs in an individual with bipolar disorder, they present a specific pattern in updating their beliefs according to new information, which makes them more vulnerable to relapse. The verdict? Pessimistic assumptions can accurately predict impending relapse in individuals with bipolar disorder.

The difference between how much an individual updated their beliefs in response to good or bad news (known as the belief update bias) was compared with how soon they had a relapse. Their analysis showed that people who had a more significant change in their beliefs in response to positive information and were more likely to take an optimistic view had a longer period before the next onset of symptoms.

Senior author Tali Sharot, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London, explains that the way individuals update their beliefs could be introduced in the future as a risk prediction tool for bipolar disorder. This could further allow patients and clinicians to step up vigilance to recognize symptoms to intervene where necessary.

Mental Wellness Strategies for Bipolar Disorder

Positive psychology is not a remedy for problems. But, by building our inner strength and making us more aware of our abilities, mental wellness strategies can help us see the positive around us and make our lives more worthy and fulfilling.

Build a Solid Support System

No one is an island, and it would be a rather miserable island if that were the case. Relationships are a critical and fulfilling part of life and an essential component of emotional intelligence.

The first relationship management strategy cited in the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book is perhaps the most enjoyable to employ: being open and curious. I personally find this strategy to be immediately rewarding to both parties: you get to learn something new while the other party gets to share their life story.

Express Gratitude

Gratitude has been shown to have a number of positive effects on both your mind and body. According to research at UC Berkeley, grateful people may sleep better, have healthier hearts, and experience fewer aches and pains than those who do not practice gratitude.

To get started, try making a list of three things you’re thankful for every morning on your phone that you can refer back to in times of high stress.

Recognize Positive Feedback, Not Just Criticism

Recognizing your strengths rather than focusing on potential weaknesses is a critical component of positive psychology. Studies have shown that recognizing your individual strengths and playing to them can reduce symptoms of depression while increasing self-contentment and overall satisfaction.

Try taking a free strengths test like this one when you have some downtime and learn more about what motivates, energizes, and gives you purpose.

Remember, you deserve to thrive, not just survive. How do you take charge of your mental wellness?

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