Racing around the house like a modern-day Mary Poppins, but without the good humour or magic? Snapping at anyone in sight? Feeling like you’ve had too much coffee? Overstimulated. Gung-ho. Taking no prisoners. Does this sound familiar?
With the challenges and changes we’re experiencing with COVID-19, you and your team might be putting any irritability and anxiety down to these strange times we’re living through. A totally reasonable conclusion. However, there may be something else at play, heightening your feelings.
A slight rise in energy at this time of year is natural, but for some people, seasonal changes can trigger hypomania or even mania. So how do you know? And more importantly, what steps can you take to support yourself, your family and your team?
Recognising spring hypomania
Spring hypomania is commonly experienced by the one-third of the UK population that experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or its milder form, Sub-syndromal SAD, (sometimes known as Winter Blues).
For some, hypomania is an enjoyable uplift in energy and motivation that’s very welcome after an autumn and winter of battling with low energy and mood. You might find yourself being very excitable and more chatty, feel a great sense of wellbeing and be full of plans. Imagine Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. Boing!
The flip side is that it can also feel uncomfortable and you might feel ‘jazzy’ in your body – like you’ve had too much caffeine. If you don’t recognise these feelings then you might experience panic. At this time, you could also have sleep disturbances, be more irritable, be curt in your communications and find it difficult to focus.
Your behavioural changes might raise a few eyebrows among your family, friends or colleagues, but they usually won’t cause any significant problems and the hypomania will only last a few days.
If your behaviour is more extreme and negatively impacts on your relationships, work or your own physical and mental safety, then it could be considered mania and you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
Positively harnessing spring hypomania
I find hypomania kicks in for me a week or so after the clocks go forward and I have a few bouts of it lasting a couple of days each. After many years, I’ve got used to recognising it and can usually harness the good parts of it and try to mitigate some of the less positive aspects – but it’s a learning process for me too!
Here are my top nine tips for positively harnessing your spring hypomania:
1) Set your body clock – Help your body understand what time of day it is and regulate your sleep by:
- Opening blinds or curtains as soon as you wake up
- Getting out for a walk in the morning if possible, or if not, try having a cuppa/breakfast in your outdoor space or by a window
- Keeping a routine with sleep and mealtimes
- Avoiding high-intensity light at night, including tablets/phones that can stop you sleeping
- Using light-blocking blinds and curtains in combination with a wake-up light to control the light in your bedroom
2) Plan and flex your work – A bout of hypomania can be an excellent time to do planning work as you have high energy, creativity and motivation levels. You might also have fewer inhibitions, so you’re less likely to constrain your work. Hold off on implementing any new ideas you cook up that require a big investment of time, money or effort just now, though. If you can, save yourself the frustration and keep repetitive or detailed work until you have better access to your focus.
3) Hold off on big decisions and conversations – Speaking of big investments, the same goes for any big life changes or conversations you have ideas about at this time. You might be a bit impulsive when you have hypomania, so don’t act until you are more level-headed. I say this from experience: I have ended jobs and relationships, jumped into new ones, signed myself up for higher education courses, booked expensive holidays and all sorts during bouts of hypomania before I recognised the pattern.
4) Do an extra check on communications – For everyday communications, it’s worth doing a double-check on your Ps and Qs – especially on emails and texts. Check for and cut out unnecessary mind-dumps too! For verbal interactions, try to be conscious of whether you’re hogging the conversation, interrupting or taking the conversation off in lots of tangents.
5) Use music to harness energy or dampen it down – Want to get the housework done? Stick on your favourite upbeat playlist, turn it up and go for it! I also like to set a timer to stop myself overdoing it and driving my family mad or doing my back in! If you’re feeling uncomfortably amped up, try some meditation or other relaxing music and spend time actively listening to it – maybe in a darkened room.
6) Breathe! – While you’re being a whirling dervish, you might be taking shallow breaths which can set off light-headedness or panic if you’re not aware of what’s going on. Try using a smartwatch or fitness tracker breathing reminder or set a reminder on your phone and take some deep, calming breaths regularly through the day.
7) Set a wind-down time – The longer hours of daylight can mean we don’t realise how late it is and if you have hypomania you’ll want to keep going. This will disrupt your body clock and sleep. Try setting a wind-down time for yourself – for example, I have my phone set to turn to greyscale and a phone reminder.
8) Brief friends, family and colleagues – If you recognise that you experience hypomania, it can be helpful to give those around you a heads up. They might be able to help you with some of these tips, and you can help them in return.
9) Anticipate the ‘comedown’ – While having hypomania can feel fun and be harmless, how you feel afterwards will partly depend on how you’ve managed it. Anticipate that you might feel tired for a few days, you might feel ashamed and want to explain and apologise for some behaviours. You might need to return or cancel things you have bought. Try to show yourself compassion and get help from a trusted friend or counsellor if you need to.
Awareness is the first step…
Recognising spring hypomania in ourselves and others can help us to anticipate and manage some of our behaviour positively while minimising any fall-out.
Hypomania may be part of a wider pattern of seasonal shifts that you observe in yourself, family, friends and your team. We’re animals and it’s natural for us to have fluctuations in energy and moods across the year that impacts on our behaviour to greater and lesser degrees. Mind goes into greater depth on the symptoms of hypomania and mania.
Talking about these shifts and knowing you’re not alone can be comforting. As with other conditions, if you experience symptoms that severely impact on your life or you have any thoughts of harming yourself, please seek professional help.
For more content on helping manage and improve your mental health, click here.
Neina Sheldon is part ‘light nutrition’ advocate, part career marketer. She’s interested in connecting experts to further our understanding of the impact of light on wellbeing, developing and sharing information and solutions through Lightopia.
Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.