The call for participants comes on Time to Talk Day (7 February), which aims to promote conversations about mental health

What do coffee, work-outs and a vivid imagination have to do with bipolar disorder?

Drinking tea or coffee, exercising and imagining events are things that most of us do sometimes, but they might tell us more about how people with bipolar disorder can manage their condition.

University of Exeter researchers are recruiting participants for several studies – including one exploring “imagery therapy” to help people manage their emotions.

This is based on the idea that mental images formed by our senses such as vision, taste and smell are known to have a strong effect on emotion.

The researchers use the example of a lemon to show people how powerfully they can imagine and remember in senses instead of words.

They are investigating whether this could help people with bipolar disorder or anxiety understand and manage emotions more effectively.

The Exeter team are also studying “behavioural activation” (doing activities instead of avoiding them, then feeling better as a result) and “self-help” methods such as physical activity and caffeine.

The call for participants comes on Time to Talk Day (7 February), which aims to promote conversations about mental health.

“Research suggests that strong images connected with high or low mood may make those emotions stronger,” said Dr Kim Wright, of the University of Exeter.

“Imagery therapy is a talking therapy aimed at reducing the symptoms of anxiety, and to help with mood stability.”

Dr Wright added: “Behavioural activation is about the link between what we do and how we feel.

“People suffering from conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder may feel too tired or anxious to do certain things – even simple things like going outside, paying a bill or contacting a friend.

“But avoiding these can make things worse in the long term.

“Bills may start to build, friends may become more distant and this can lead to people feeling guilty.

“Depression is an incredibly difficult situation, as every inch of our being might be telling us we cannot manage many of the things we used to do, even if doing them would ultimately be helpful.

“The therapy is about helping people work their way back to doing things.

“The therapy is based on the idea that, when we are depressed, we can’t wait for mood to change and motivation to appear, because mood is stuck, so we have to work from the outside in – this can set off a spark that begins your recovery.”

PhD student Samantha Eden, who is leading the study on the links between drinking coffee, exercise and mood, said: “Caffeine and physical activity are often used for the management of mood or energy level by people in general, including those with mood disorders such as bipolar.”

“What we eat and drink and how much activity we do could have important effects on our mood, but there hasn’t been much research into the interplay between caffeine, activity and mood.

“Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world, but because it’s so commonplace it’s often not seen as a powerful drug.

“It can be perceived quite negatively and some people with mood disorders have been advised to avoid it, but we don’t know enough about the real risks and benefits.

“Knowing this could help to understand whether it could be used as a cost-effective self-help technique – alongside medication and psychotherapies – for people with bipolar.”

The studies have varying entry requirements, but the team would like to hear from anyone in Devon with bipolar disorder.

To find out more, call 01392 725227 or visit http://www.exeter.ac.uk/mooddisorders/research/bipolarresearch/ 

Date: 7 February 2019

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