Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting through exams when you have bipolar disorder



It's that time of year again for the high school or college student.... midterms. And soon it will be finals. If you are a student with bipolar disorder, you must take extra care to make sure the stress does not cause you to have symptoms or a full-blown manic or depressive episode. So how do you stay healthy amid all the demands on your time? The short list of strategies (I don't want to add to your to-do list:). 

1. Make a monthly assignment calendar on which you put all due dates. Place it on your refrigerator, your door or your mirror: some place where you will see it everyday. This prevents surprises.
2. Go see your professors for a check-in about how you are doing and what you can do better and on what areas you should focus. If you have not registered as a student with a disability then you may want to reconsider so that you can have extra time if you need it.

3. Go to student support workshops re:stress, exams, studying strategies etc offered by your university campus.Your tuition pays for all these great resources on campus; don't waste those dollars.

4. Go to a library orientation. This will probably be one of the best spent 30-60 minutes of your entire college career. Understanding databases, references & citations, where to find what, and how to access library help, is essential to getting an A on that paper.

5. Form a study group. Accountability to others is a great motivator for us to do what we often do not like to do. You will learn from each other and you will put some structure into your study life while adding a little bit of social to the solitary study routine.

6. Set a study schedule. Now that you know when things are due, when your study group(s) will meet, and what the professor wants you to do, and how you are going to maximize the library, it's time to set a specific time and place to do your studying. Sometimes you may want to be in the library and other times at home or in a coffee shop. Change up the routine to keep you focused but do what works for you. Tip: If you get your weekend studying out of the way on Saturday and Sunday morning then you are guilt-free to enjoy your weekend night.

7. Take care of yourself. All-nighters are a college staple; minimize them by taking the steps above. Below are some ways to make sure your body is ready for the studying and testing ahead.
  • Take your medications as prescribed. This is not the time to be playing around with your medications without the supervision of your doctor.
  • Exercise regularly - daily if possible; even if its a walk to run all your errands. Get your heart rate up and stress slowly melts away and sleep comes much easier at night.
  • Eat. Fresh fruits, vegetables and protein. Many people snack when they study so pop grapes or munch on carrots to stop that freshman 15 turning into a senior 30. Add in some Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements and get at least half hour of sun everyday if you can. Best if you get it while going for a walk. Clears the head and calms the mood.
  • Sleep. Six to 8 hours of sleep maximizes memory function and brain function overall and keeps you alert in class. It may be best to skip that last hour of studying and go to bed so you can remember what you have already studied instead of forgetting everything. Maintain a sleep routine where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each night. See my post on sleep for more on how to keep your sleep and mood regular.
  • No drugs. Avoid all non-prescribed mood-altering drugs such as alcohol and caffeine. They impair your sleep and have a negative impact on the regulation of your moods. DO NOT TAKE ANY UNPRESCRIBED MEDICATIONS especially medications that are prescribed to your friends. These could have dangerous interactions with the medications you  may be taking for bipolar disorder.
  • Relax. However it is you do that: yoga, meditation etc. If your mind is clear you will find that there is more room for all the knowledge you're paying for.
  • See your doctor if you are not feeling well or think you may need some support to get through this stressful time. Prevention is much better than cure. 
No more points for you to learn here. You may do all this and not be able to prevent having symptoms or a full-blown episode but you will reduce the risk and improve your ability to cope.


This professor is wishing you happy studying and great grades. Now for me to come up with tips on how professors can get through the grading without pulling their hair out. 

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