There are some excellent meditations that science suggests could help to alleviate the symptoms of bipolar disporder. This is according to research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
Particularly, meditation can help you to control mood swings. You should note, however, that meditation works best when combined with psychological counseling.
Below, I will share a great meditation for bipolar diaorder. And then we’ll look at the science. You might also like to read my guide to Meditation For Depression.
Meditation for Bipolar Disorder
Always consult a healthcare professional before beginning. This information is for educational purposes only. Meditation should not replace the treatment provided by your mental health professional.
Seated breathing techniques are usually the best place to start. This is one of the most natural methods to learn. Essentially you sit and focus your mind on your breathing. This slows your mind down and helps to create internal balance and harmony. Hence, it helps regulate the lows and highs of manic depression.
One of the common symptoms of the condition is that it makes it hard to control your breathing according to BipolarCareGivers. By using breathing exercises, you can take control of your breathing. Then, you will be able to relax when you experience mania.
2: Mindful Cognitive Therapy (MCT)
Mindfulness is one of the most important of all techniques and one of the easiest. In mindfulness, you focus the mind on the present moment in a non-judgemental fashion. This helps your mind to relax and helps you to control your mood, which is very beneficial for manic depressives.
Scientific research shows that MBSR and Mindfulness Cognitive Therapy, a practice created by Jon Kabat Zinn, is particularly helpful. It can help to slow-down racing thoughts, reduce the effects of anxious or depressive thoughts, and decrease impulsivity.
Zazen is the meditative practice used by the Zen sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
Zen methods are similar to breathing techniques. What makes them different is that they use specific body postures that help us relax.
Zen meditation trains you to focus and to create inner balance. It completely closes you off to external stimuli, which is invaluable for people whose conditions are triggered by external stimuli, such as noises.
4: Zen walking
This is a gentle, slow technique that is excellent for general relaxation. It is advocated by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Think about the last time you went for a long walk and how relaxing it felt. Multiply that by ten. That’s how relaxing zen walking is.
Mindful walking is a fantastic way to silence your thoughts. And that’s very helpful for manic depressives. Because the condition can be triggered by racing thoughts, slowing your thoughts down will help.
Benefits of Meditation for Bipolar Disorder
There is significant scientific evidence indicating that meditation can help with bipolar disorder and certainly with the symptoms of the condition.
For most people, there are certainly plenty of reasons to try some meditative exercises. However, it is also worth bearing in mind that there are some health risks of meditation, so if you start to feel uncomfortable or unwell when practising, stop. It is best to consult a healthcare professional before you attempt the exercises.
1: Meditation improves cognitive function
Science shows that meditation can improve cognitive functioning and help with emotions. For instance, it can increase mood stability and reduce episodes and levels of mania and depression.
Studies show that one particularly good exercise for manic depression is to use mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy. This form of therapy can lead to an increase in self-control and executive functioning. Plus, it could reduce the behavioural symptoms of the condition. It increases awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations, and thereby helps decrease depression and improve cognitive functioning.
2: Helps the brain
We can use meditation to regulate emotions and moods. Specifically, meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex. This is the emotional control centre of the brain. It controls depression, mania, and other emotions.
The prefrontal cortex is underactive in people with the disorder. However, meditation increases this activity. The brains of experienced meditators exhibit more thickness, density, and activity in the prefrontal cortex [University of Massachusetts, 2005]. In turn, this reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
3: Improves amygdala activity
The condition causes highs and lows of amygdala reactivity. This is partly the reason for the euphoria, irritability, insomnia, inattention, and distractibility. Research shows that meditation balances amygdala activity to help stabilize mood.
The Amygdala is the number one brain region associated with bipolar disorder. However, research from Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar shows that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation reduces amygdala activity to help reduces stress and reduce the “fight or flight” response.
4: Strengthens the nervous system
Meditation stimulates your whole nervous system. In turn, this causes it to reorganise at a higher rate. Plus, it increases neurogenesis to create new neurons in the brain. This helps to fortify neural pathways and synchronize the right brain and left brain, creating “whole brain synchronization.”
5: Better self control
In The Tao of Bipolar, C. Alexander Simpkins PhD says: “The mental training that comes from practising meditation increases activation in the parts of the brain that manage emotions and moods.”
Patients who use mindfulness as a part of their daily practice show increased levels of inner-peace and fewer episodes of mood swings for many hours after their practice session.
Some of the best types of meditation include calming exercises like breathwork, which can help to decrease mood swings and improve emotional control. These exercises also increase awareness. In turn, this helps manic depressives avoid the highs and lows while maintaining a healthy, balanced mental state.
In other words, with meditation, you will experience less of the unnaturally upbeat, euphoria moments, and also less of the feelings of hopelessness, sadness, fatigue and restlessness.
6: Improves neurotransmitters
Bipolar medications work by boosting certain neurotransmitters according to Dennis Thompson Jr.
Our mood is significantly affected by lacks of dopamine, GABA, serotonin, endorphins and other brain chemicals. Research [including Harte et al – Biological Psychology Journal] has found that meditation balances brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. And this helps bipolar sufferers balance their mood.
7: Balances serotonin levels
Many bipolar disorder medications (SSRIs) are used to increase levels of serotonin according to the University of Montreal. Serotonin is a signal relayer that is regarded as one of the most pivotal neurotransmitters in bipolar disorder.
Serotonin is needed for the healthy growth of new brains cells. A decline in the growth rate of new brain cells can lead to depression, according to leading Princeton University neuroscientist Dr Barry Jacobs. Hence the need for medication. However, meditation increases serotonin naturally according to the article ‘Meditation: The Future Medication’ by Dr Avdesh Sharma.
8: More aware
When we meditate, we learn to observe thoughts and moods in a calm way. And we learn to detach from those moods, so we are less reactive.
This is true for everyone, not just people with bipolar disorder. As we go throughout the day and encounter various stressors, we start to respond by releasing brain chemicals associated with the disorder. For instance, cortisol. Plus, our heart rate increases.
The key to overcoming this is general mindful awareness. When we are mindful, we are less reactive to stressors and to states of mind.
When we meditate, we increase awareness of the various processes of the mind, such as thoughts and emotions. We come to understand that it is normal for our emotions to fluctuate. Once we understand these mental processes, we become less reactive to them. Then, we can take a step back from the emotional rollercoaster and take more control of our moods. This also means less reactivity to suicidal thoughts.
9: Strengthens prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex is the control terminal of your brain. Its functions include knowing good from bad, right from wrong, and understanding the consequences of actions. It also organises the structure of thoughts. We can strengthen the prefrontal cortex by practising mindfulness.
NewScientist says, “Mindfulness meditation increases thickness in the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes, both linked to attention control. In contrast, compassion-based meditation produces increases in the limbic system, which processes emotions, and the anterior insula, which helps bring feelings into conscious awareness.”
Therefore, two of the best meditations for bipolar disorder are mindfulness and compassion-based methods like the Buddhist methods Loving Kindness and Karuna (Compassion)
10: Improves Quality of Life
Manic depressives who practice meditation have been scientifically observed to have more control of their minds compared to those with the condition who do not meditate. This is largely because of the decrease in episodes of extreme emotions.
There are certainly many benefits of meditation for people with bipolar disorder. However, always make sure that you are comfortable and that it is safe to practice meditative exercises. I urge you to speak to a doctor or mental health professional before trying these techniques. Meditation is not meant to replace your regular treatment, psychotherapy, or medication.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison