February 16, 2018 | | Comments 0
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Dealing with Difficult Patients: High-octane energy

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Mania or an elevated mood is hard to miss. People who are manic have lots to say; have lots of places to go; have a wealth of ideas to share; and just don’t have enough time to explain all of their theories, schemes, and plans. Much like the Energizer Bunny, people with mania keep going and going, often after all of those around them have dropped with exhaustion, or walked away seeking quiet and solitude.

People with mania, especially those who have hypomania (a milder form of elevated mood and elation), love their episodes when they can say “I get so much done,” “I become super creative,” or “I am on the top of my game.” An episode can go something like this:

At first, when I’m high, it’s tremendous . . . ideas are fast . . . like shooting stars you follow until brighter ones appear. All shyness disappears, the right words and gestures are suddenly there . . . uninteresting people and things become intensely interesting. Sensuality is pervasive. The desire to seduce and be seduced is irresistible. Your marrow is infused with unbelievable feelings of ease, power, well-being, omnipotence, euphoria. You can do anything . . .

But then things take a turn:

The fast ideas become too fast and there are far too many of them. Overwhelming confusion replaces clarity . . .  you stop keeping up with it—memory goes. Infectious humor ceases to amuse. Your friends become frightened. Everything is now against the grain. You are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and trapped (Spearing).

And therein lies the problem: While in manic episodes, people deplete all of their own bodily reserves, and the reserves of others. Those caring for the manic person become exhausted themselves, generally depleting all of their emotional as well as physical energy reserves.

Making sense of manic patients

Don’t panic: When we are faced with dealing with a manic patient who is out of control, it can easily make us feel out of control too. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The patient is being controlled by his or her disease. Control of behaviors and feelings is simply not possible.
  • The patient lacks any insight into his or her behavior. People in manic states do not realize they are sick, and they are unaware of the consequences of their behavior. They reject any idea that any illness is involved, and they find excuses to try to make sense of what is going on around them.
  • The patient with mania becomes frustrated, often with others who cannot keep up with him or her. The patient may lash out and show his or her frustration in inappropriate ways. It often appears that the patient knows exactly how to push your buttons, or knows the exact things about which you are most sensitive.
  • The patient with mania is hyperalert. People in manic states are hypervigilant and are often aware of things going on in the environment that others do not pick up on.

Ways to prevent cycling
When working with manic individuals, you need to help them prevent the exhaustive cycles they live through. Although that is not always possible, you can help them identify and attempt to avoid the triggers that may lead to a mood swing. One of the most important aspects of managing manic episodes is to stick to a routine.

You can also help patients:

  • Set realistic goals. Having unrealistic goals can set up the individual for disappointment and frustration, which can trigger a manic episode. Advise the patient to do the best he or she can to manage his or her symptoms, but expect and be prepared for occasional setbacks.
  • Get help from family and/or friends. Everyone needs help from family and/or friends during a manic episode, especially if he or she has trouble telling the difference between what is real and what is not real. Having a plan in place before any mood changes occur can help the individual’s support network to make good decisions.
  • Make a healthy living schedule. This is important for those with mood swings. Many people with manic episodes find that sticking to a daily schedule can help control their mood. Some examples include regular meal times, routine exercise or other physical activity, and practicing some sort of relaxation each night before bed. Also, you can help to provide a balanced diet for the patient, focusing on the basics: fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less fat and sugar. Exercise uses up some energy and helps a person sleep better. Help the patient develop an exercise plan that fits his or her lifestyle. While in the hospital, taking walks around the unit during the day may benefit the patient.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep may be a challenge for a person with mania. Being overtired or getting too much or too little sleep can trigger mania in many people. While the patient is under your care, make up a schedule for rest and relaxation before sleep. Have the patient go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, and relax by listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a bath. Do not allow the patient to watch TV in his or her room.
  • Reduce stress. Anxiety can trigger mania in many people. Ask the patient what helps him or her relax. It might be calming music or a meditation tape. Avoid those things that hype people up, such as watching violent shows on TV or listening to loud music. Helping the person reduce stress in general at home and at work might help prevent episodes. Advise the patient to ask for help: A young mother may ask her spouse, family, or friend to take care of some of the housework. If the person’s job is proving to be too much, he or she can scale back some responsibilities. Doing a good job is important, but avoiding a manic mood episode is more important.
  • Avoid stimulants, alcohol, and drugs. Many people with mania may turn to substances to try to avoid a manic episode, or stimulating substances to elevate their mood. Up to 60% of people with mood disorders also have substance abuse problems. This self-medication may give them some temporary relief, but it will make their condition worse over time. Tell the patient to eliminate the use of caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs (Spearing).
  • Stick with treatment. It’s essential for people with mania to continue their medication and get regular checkups. It can be tempting to stop treatment because the symptoms go away. However, it is important to continue treatment as prescribed to avoid taking risks or having unpleasant consequences associated with a manic episode. If the patient has concerns about treatment or the side effects of medicines, talk with him or her and caution the patient not to adjust the medicines on his or her own.

Spearing, M. (2002). “Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. Available at www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/bipolar.cfm.

Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC is an HCPro author and contributed to the book Stressed Out About Difficult Patients.


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Filed Under: Health and wellnessHealthcare communicationPatient outcomespatient satisfaction


About the Author: Kenneth Michek is the Associate Editor for nurse management at HCPro.

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