Our lives can be all over the place. Every day we face a whole new slew of people and situations that have the potential to stress us out. Since we're all unique individuals, we each have our own ways of dealing with these stressful people and times. Some of the tools that we employ are helpful...while others are not so helpful. Since we're all different from one another, the things that stress one person may not have the same effect on the person sitting right next to them. Stress is super complicated and highly personal to the individual who experiences it. Think about what makes you feel stressed out. I'm sure that you have known other people who aren’t bothered by your stressors and seem to deal with them without so much as a bat of an eye. Do you know people who stress out about things that would never occur to you be a problem? The reason people react differently to the same stressor has to do with their experiences. Stress is brought on by "triggers" or situations/people/emotions that you are particularly sensitive to because of things that have happened in your life.
Take anger, for example: A person who was raised in an unpredictable environment where anger caused yelling, intimidation, or physical violence will likely react differently to anger than someone who was taught to express anger in a healthy way. Both people may experience a partner being angry with them, but only one of them is likely to be triggered.
There is no limit to the ways individuals are triggered because there is an unlimited number of circumstances that affect human beings. In addition to the diversity of triggers that exist, there is a broad spectrum of ways people react to their triggers. People tend to develop defense mechanisms, or unconscious reactions that protect them from the pain of their triggers. It is common to be unaware of the presence of these defense mechanisms as well as when they are in use. I bet that almost all of us have heard or used the term “become defensive” when we feel that someone is trying to protect or defend themselves in an argument instead of listening to the opposing point of view. This often happens when a person is triggered by the subject matter. Even after the trigger has passed, the defense mechanism remains and may impact relationships and work.
As a therapist who works with young people and LGBTQ+ individuals and couples with a variety of anxiety, depression and personal image issues, I see my share of defense mechanisms that come out during the course of a therapy session. As a therapist, I am trained to identify and help people work through these defenses, which is critical in making progress on whatever issue brings them to counseling.
There are many different types of defense mechanisms, but the following are five common ones. Regardless of how emotionally healthy we are, we all have defense mechanisms at play every day.
A qualified therapist can help you build your self-awareness, heal past pain and/or trauma, and get you coping in a healthy way with any triggers that come your way.
People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of both mania (an exceptionally elevated, irritable, or energetic mood) and depression. These episodes can be separate or depressed and manic symptoms may occur at the same time as symptoms of depression. The frequency of episodes varies. At least four depressive, manic, hypomanic (mild form of mania) or mixed episodes within a year is known as rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
During the early stages of a manic episode, people can be very happy, productive and creative. They have less need for sleep and don’t feel tired. There is some evidence that many well-known creative people suffer or have suffered from bipolar disorder. But this link may be caused by an unknown third factor, such as temperament.
In our culture, bipolar disorder has the tendency to be romanticized by its association with creative types, but many sufferers’ experience of the illness is far from glamourous. Patients report getting to the point where they can’t function and sometimes need to be hospitalized, especially if they don’t take their medication as prescribed.
"Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms.”
At the same time, however, at the start of a manic episode, a person might make lots of plans because the world seems full of opportunity. Individuals report that they feel high, they meet a lot of new friends, they'll go on shopping sprees and spend all their money, and sometimes they say that they even feel invincible. When prescribed, medication can remove or dull the experience of mania. A person experiencing mania may not like that their high mood and productivity is compromised, so they stop taking their medication.
So... is there something about the manic or in-between episodes of bipolar disorder that can be conducive to creative expression in some people?
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco noted, “It is well-established that people with affective disorders tend to be overrepresented in the creative artist population (especially those with bipolar disorder). Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms.”
Oftentimes, people living with bipolar disorder report that they are at their most creative and productive when feeling most healthy. For example, the poet Sylvia Plath, who is widely believed to have had bipolar disorder, said that when she was writing she was accessing the healthiest part of herself.
In 2005, a study tried to unravel the relationship between writer Virginia Woolf’s creativity and her mental illness, which was most likely bipolar disorder. The psychiatrist Gustavo Figueroa of the University of Valparaiso, Chile, writes, “She was moderately stable as well as exceptionally productive from 1915 until she committed suicide in 1941.
“Virginia Woolf created little or nothing while she was unwell, and was productive between attacks.” But, “A detailed analysis of her own creativity over the years shows that her illnesses were the source of material for her novels.”
It does seem that for those who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, creativity can offer a powerful means of expression.
Figueroa, C. G. Virginia Woolf as an example of a mental disorder and artistic creativity. Revista Medica de Chile, Vol. 133, November 2005, pp. 1381-88.
Liu, A. et al. A Case Study of an Emerging Visual Artist with Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Neurocase, Vol. 15, June 2009, pp. 235-47.
It has been found that people who engage in everyday forms of creativity are revealed to be more open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by the act of creation. Research suggests that creative cognition draws on both the executive functioning that is tied to intellect and the associative divergence that is associated with openness (Nusbaum and Silvia, 2011; Beaty et al., 2014; Benedek et al., 2014; Jung, 2014) increases the probability that ideas will be original. Whether the idea is creative, however, also depends on the protective intellectual factors needed to steer the chaotic storm. Not surprisingly, then, individuals who score highly in daily creativity report that they have a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to their peers who engage less in everyday creative behavior
The act of creating can be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases immune system functioning, and the emerging field of post-traumatic growth is showing how people can turn adversity into creative growth.