Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition that causes extremely high points in mood and energy (mania) prefaced or followed by extremely low, depressive states (depression). These uncontrollable mood swings have a severe impact on the lives of those who live with the disorder.
According to Mental Health America, more than 4.4% of the adult population will experience the disorder at some point in their lives. A Bipolar diagnosis does not necessarily mean that a person is highly emotional, but refers to the extended periods of abnormally high energy, to prolonged depressed states, with periods of normalcy in between. The disorder can be extremely disruptive for those who suffer, family members, and friends due to the emotional fluctuations and randomness of their occurrences. The disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. Bipolar disorder is typically hard to recognize and can go years without being properly diagnosed. The good news is, bipolar is very treatable and manageable through a combination of talk therapy, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, medication.
Taking care of yourself is key to managing bipolar disorder. In combination with talk therapy and medication, maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle with a consistent routine can help to control manic and depressive episodes. This can include tasks like:
1) Creating a set schedule
Creating a schedule and sticking to it as closely as possible will not only add organization to your life, but will prompt positive changes in your daily routines. Try starting and ending your days at the same time each day and create task lists to keep yourself on track. Sometimes planning your week out on a Sunday night can accommodate for changing schedules, different obligations, and preparing yourself for the week that is to come.
2) Paying attention to your sleep
Getting the appropriate amount of sleep (7 to 9 hours a night) is so important when living with bipolar. If you notice a few nights of less sleep, it could mean a manic episode is coming on. On the contrast, if you start to sleep more than normal, you may be experiencing a depressed episode. You can combat this by relaxing before bed, shutting electronics off and keeping them out of the room, making your bedroom a calming space, and tracking your sleep habits. If you are working with a primary care doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist, make sure to share your sleep habits with them.
3) Exercising frequently
Exercise is known to help fight depression and make falling asleep easier. Just exercising for 30 minutes a day can make a huge difference. If finding the time to exercise is difficult for you, try scheduling your workouts in when you create your weekly routines, so you make sure to squeeze it in. Exercising should be a high priority, just as your other obligations. You can even keep it simple, such as going for a walk with a friend.
4) Eating well
Just as you want to schedule your week with sleeping times and working out, try to plan for your meals. While there is no specific diet recommended for people with bipolar disorder, choosing the right kinds of foods can help you feel better. When you get the necessary nutrients in your body, you will be fueled appropriately and your moods will be more stable. Focus on the basics and favor fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Try to cut down on fat, salt, and sugar.
5) Minimizing stress
This is always easier said than done! But try to take the time to relax. Simply breathing deeply for a few minute each day is proven to lower your heart rate and have calming effects. Yoga or meditation can also be effective practices to manage stress. Evaluate what things in your life bring you high levels of stress and see if there are any solutions or ways to work around them. By simplifying your life, you’ll make things easier and have more time to focus on your self-care.
6) Limiting caffeine
While you may be used to consuming a set amount of caffeine each day, it can keep you up at night and have an effect on your mood. Try to limit the amount of coffee, tea, and soda you drink. When planning your meals for the week, see if you are eating and drinking a lot of items high in caffeine that could be affecting your mood. Your best bet is to begin limiting these items gradually so that you do not get headaches or other symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
7) Avoiding alcohol and drugs
Be careful, especially if you are on medications, as alcohol and drugs may affect you differently. It is understandable that turning to drugs or alcohol may seem to help you handle your bipolar symptoms, but it usually ends up triggering manic or depressive episodes. If you think that you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, make sure you are getting the appropriate help. Talk to your health provider or find a professional who specializes in addiction. Substance abuse often needs its own separate treatment.
8) Keeping a mood diary
Tracking how you feel on a daily basis will not only feel therapeutic, but it can help you understand your moods better. By having a point of reference, you will be able to identify which events triggered which moods, if certain foods had an effect on you, or if there are any other noted patterns. Having this information can also help your treatment providers, as you will have concrete information to show them. If you are on medication, tracking your moods can be very important for medication management.
9) Joining a support group
It is not always easy living with bipolar disorder and you may feel alone at times. While it is beneficial to get support from your friends and family, finding people who genuinely understand what it is like to live with bipolar can be very helpful. Support groups are a great way to meet other people who are going through similar experiences. This could even help you learn new ways to cope with your personal challenges and you will feel empowered when you are able to support someone else. It is natural to want to isolate yourself when feeling depressed, so having a set group on the schedule will ensure that you are getting some time to socialize in.
10) Maintaining your bipolar treatment
It can be difficult to continue with treatment when you are feeling better. It can also be difficult to continue if you feel that your treatment is not helping. Whatever you do, don’t stop taking your medications without discussing it with your doctor. If something is not working, they will work with you to change it. If you are feeling better, maybe there is a plan you and your doctor can put in place together. Similarly, keeping your talk therapy appointments are going to be beneficial in continuing to combat bipolar disorder. If you feel like you are not connecting with your therapist, communicate that or look for a new provider.
Managing bipolar disorder takes time and work, and there is no one right way to do it. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and sticking to your treatment plan will help the most. There may be days when you can’t stick to your routine and that is okay. Just keep pushing through and get back on track the next day. You will be surprised how quickly you’ll be able to find solutions, adjust and get back to your schedule!
If you are ready to work with a therapist who can help you lead a lifestyle to better manage your bipolar symptoms, click here.