Everyday Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder

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Living with bipolar disorder can have its challenges, and its symptoms can be confusing. Mania (having racing thoughts and tons of energy) and depression (being unable to do things and wanting to be alone) are opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are parts of bipolar disorder. Managing your disorder depends on what’s going on in your life at the time, as you aim to get yourself into that sweet spot, when you’re neither manic nor depressed.

Medications are an important part of your treatment plan, but they’re just one component. Your everyday habits also play a role in helping you live your life to its fullest, and can also help your medications be their most effective. Try incorporating these steps into your daily routine to take control over your symptoms.

1. Learn a new skill or create something of your own.

Keeping busy, learning how to do things, or creating something with your hands can help you through all your stages. The stimulation of new, fun challenges is itself therapeutic. If you’re feeling depressed, going out to attend a workshop or class can give you a goal to work towards, as can creating a project of your own. And if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and feeling manic or anxious, having a specific task may give you something to focus on and help you redirect your energies.

2. Relax your way to health.

It seems like relaxing should come naturally, but for many people, it doesn’t. If you can learn the best ways that help you unwind—because not everyone relaxes in the same way—you can call on that skill when you need it most. When you’re starting to get anxious or feel your thoughts starting to race, activities like yoga or meditation may help you calm your mind. If you’re starting to feel those familiar feelings of depression trying to take over, your relaxation techniques may help you refocus your thoughts, helping you re-center yourself.

3. Kitchen therapy: reach for the healthier foods.

A diet that doesn’t provide enough vitamins and nutrients can make anyone feel sluggish or on edge, something you really don’t need when you’re starting to feel depressed or agitated. On the other hand, a well-balanced diet gives your body the fuel it needs to function properly.

If you’re unsure about what foods are recommended and how often you should eat them, talk to your doctor or consider adding a nutritionist to your treatment team. Websites like Choose My Plate can also be a helpful resource. A side benefit to paying attention to your diet is that you may find you enjoy learning how to cook foods that are new to you as you change your eating habits.

4. Get a move on.

Adding exercise to your routine is a common refrain, and there’s good reason for it. Along with its physical benefits, studies have shown regular exercise also improves mental health. In addition to getting you out and socializing, exercise releases “feel-good” endorphins in the brain and reduces other chemicals that can make depression worse. Replacing old routines with healthy new habits like daily exercise can also rejuvenate your besieged brain! Some studies show that people who exercise have fewer depression relapses than people who don’t. Other research shows exercise can help limit the symptoms of mild to moderate depression in some people.

5. Catch those z’s.

Depression and mania both cause different sleep issues. If you’re in a manic phase, it might be hard to get to sleep and stay asleep, and if you’re depressed, sleep may be the thing you crave most. Although they’re opposite problems, they can be managed more or less the same way: Set a regular sleep schedule, and limit stimulants like caffeine. Also limit alcohol as a way to fall asleep; instead use exercise as a natural way to tire out your body. Finally, avoid using electronics before bed so you can unplug—both literally and figuratively.

6. Plan for the unexpected.

Speaking with your family and friends about what you might need before you need it can give you a sense of security if things get rough. If you start to feel anxious or depressed, whatever the reason, you can reach out for help from people who know you might ask for it. Life has a habit of throwing us all curveballs once in a while, especially when you’re managing bipolar disorder. By being proactive, planning ahead, and taking care of yourself, you can be better equipped for anything that comes your way.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Dec 12

  1. Choose My Plate. US Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ 

  2. Depression and bipolar support alliance. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_brochures_dealing_effectively

  3. Otto MW, Reilly-Harrington NA, Knauz RO, et al. Living with Bipolar Disorder. Oxford University Press. New York. 2008. http://tinyurl.com/pea87k5 

  4. Exercise and Depression. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-and-depression-report-excerpt

  5. Depression (major depressive disorder). Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-200464...

  6. Depression and Sleep. The National Sleep Foundation. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/depression-and-sleep

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