After three years of trial and error and over 30 different medications, I crashed in 1998. I spent months in bed, often not bathing or shaving. The few times I ventured out of the house, even my friends didn’t recognize me. And how could they? I didn’t recognize myself.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness known for the extreme mood swings it produces. Mood swings can be abrupt and unpredictable. They can range from extremely high and ecstatic to exceptionally low and sad. People with bipolar disorder often have trouble coping with everyday life. The worst cycles can last for weeks or months.
I am one of the millions of people who live with bipolar disorder. I know all too well how difficult it can be to deal with the everyday ups and downs of this illness. But I also know that there are things you can do to help make life with bipolar disorder easier.
Here are 21 smart ways to reduce the effects of bipolar disorder on your everyday life:
1. Take your medication as prescribed
This may seem like a no-brainer. Even so, it’s important to remember that medication is a key part of managing bipolar disorder. This means taking your pills at the same time every day.
I get it. I loathe every colorful pill I put in my mouth. It’s a harsh reminder three times a day of the trouble in my mind, but there’s no reason to be afraid.
Medical treatments have advanced a lot in the past 20 years. It’s unlikely you’ll go through the extensive period of trial and error I had to deal with back in the mid-90s. With genetic testing alone, doctors can quickly weed out the medications your body can’t metabolize.
But you have to do your part. As much as you hate it, take all your prescriptions on time every day.
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep is often elusive for many people with bipolar disorder. Your goals should be to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
A lack of sleep can trigger a manic episode. It can also make it harder to deal with the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
There are a few things you can do to help make sure you get enough sleep:
- Make a regular sleep schedule and follow it
- Stay away from alcohol and caffeine before going to sleep
- Practice a relaxing bedtime routine
- Avoid using cell phones or electronic devices in bed
3. Eat a healthy diet
Eating healthy can help improve your mood and give you more energy. It can also help you sleep better and improve your concentration.
There are a few things you can do to eat healthier. For example, eat regularly scheduled meals and avoid processed and sugary foods. Add in plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
Maintaining a proper diet is one of my biggest struggles. I love dessert after every meal and am addicted to salty snacks. I can polish off a bag of kettle potato chips before you even know I’ve opened them. It’s a terrible habit and one I’m working hard to improve.
4. Exercise regularly
Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. It can also help improve sleep, increase energy levels, and reduce stress.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. If you’re not used to exercising, start slow. As your build strength, gradually increase the amount and intensity of your workouts.
5. Avoid alcohol and drugs
Substance abuse is a common problem among people with bipolar disorder. Both alcohol and recreational drugs can make your symptoms worse. They can cancel out your medications or create adverse effects.
Alcohol and drugs can trigger manic episodes and make it harder to stick to your treatment plan. Alcohol can also have a negative impact on your sleeping patterns. As you know, sleep is vital for minimizing the effects of bipolar disorder on everyday life.
If you’re struggling with substance abuse, get help from a treatment program or support group.Bipolar Disorder Symptom Checklist
6. Spend time with supportive people
Surround yourself with family and friends who understand and support you. These people can provide emotional stability and offer practical help when needed.
It’s also important to avoid people who trigger your symptoms or are otherwise toxic to your wellbeing. Think about how you feel when you’re with someone. Do they make you feel calm and comfortable or fill you with anxiety? Are they compassionate about your challenges or do they tell you to get over it? You deserve people who will treat you well.
7. Do things you enjoy
Find activities that make you happy and stick to them.
For me, that’s spending time with my family, writing, and working in my yard. If mental illness knocks me to a dark place where it’s impossible to do those things, I turn to Hulu. I’m careful to avoid programs that will drive me deeper into the darkness. Shows that make me laugh, such as Friends or How I Met Your Mother, help keep me afloat.
Music is another mood booster. I have a collection of songs I turn to when I need the lift.
Pick an activity that makes you happy and lifts your mood.
8. Be patient and forgiving with yourself
It’s important to remember that bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. It will take time to find the right treatment and management plan. You will make many mistakes along the way.
Be patient with yourself and don’t expect miracles overnight. When you screw up, which I do every day, apologize quickly and make an effort to do better. Just as you hope the ones you love will forgive you, be sure you also forgive yourself.
9. Seek professional help
If you’re struggling to cope with bipolar disorder, see a mental health professional. As hard as it may be, open up to your care team about what you feel and the thoughts in your head. They can only help you when they know the complete story.
Trust is an issue with bipolar disorder, so showing your real self is always challenging. A good doctor won’t judge you for what you say.
10. Join a support group
There are many groups available for people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones. These groups can provide support and understanding.
Mental illness is a lonely road to walk, but support groups help you remember you’re not alone on your path. Even if you can’t find one locally, there are great options online to help you connect with others.
11. Educate yourself about bipolar disorder
The more you know about the illness, the better equipped you’ll be to manage it.
Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness, and it’s important to understand as much as you can about it. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions about your treatment and care.
You can learn more about bipolar disorder from books, articles, websites, and support groups. I also recommend talking to your doctor or therapist about what you’ve learned.
12. Maintain a routine
A routine can help reduce the effects of bipolar disorder on everyday life.
When possible, stick to a sleep schedule and get enough rest. Eat healthy meals at regular intervals and avoid drugs and alcohol. Exercise a few times a week and take time to relax and de-stress.
Of course, there will be times when your routine is disrupted. That’s okay. Just do your best to get back on track as soon as possible.
13. Keep a journal
Bipolar will put things in your head you shouldn’t say, but you still need to get the words out. A journal gives you a safe place to pour out all your thoughts and feelings.
Writing in a journal can help you track your mental health and identify patterns. This knowledge can be helpful in managing bipolar disorder.
Your journal doesn’t have to be fancy. Simply write how you’re feeling each day. Make notes about anything that might have triggered your symptoms. If you’re worried about someone reading your journal, write in code or destroy each entry after you write it.
I recommend keeping what you write, but it holds some risk. Looking back through my decades of journals has helped me identify triggers, toxic people, and unhealthy habits. A journal can also remind you of good things. In its pages, you will remind yourself every cycle ends and that you have many good things in your life.
14. Track your moods
It’s helpful to track your moods with a mood chart or tracking app. This will help you identify trends and triggers for your symptoms.
There are many ways to track your moods. You can use a notebook, an online application, or even just a piece of paper.
I like to track my moods on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. I also note any symptoms I’m experiencing and anything that might have triggered my mood.
This information can be very helpful in managing bipolar disorder. It’s also a useful tool to share with your care team to help them with your treatment.
15. Reduce stress
Reducing stress is easier said than done. Keeping unnecessary stress out of your life is vital to mental health stability.
There are many things you can do to reduce stress in your life. Taking breaks, setting boundaries, and simplifying your schedule can all help.
You might also want to try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
16. Spend time outside
There’s something about being in nature that makes you feel good. Spend time outside every day, even if only a few minutes.
Take a walk in the park, sit on a bench and people watch, or have a picnic in your backyard. Just get out there and enjoy the fresh air.
When the noise in my head is overwhelming, I sit in my backyard. Listening to the birds sing and the wind rustle the leaves in the trees helps me calm down. I leave my phone in the house so I can enjoy nature without distractions.
17. Set aside time for self care
Self-care is anything that you do to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. It’s important to make time for self-care, especially when you’re dealing with a mental illness.
Self-care activities can include exercise, eating healthy meals, and getting enough sleep. You can also spend time outside, practice mindfulness, and hang out with friends. Find what works for you and make it a priority.
For many, self-care includes finding time to be alone. A few minutes of solitude can help you recenter yourself. Just be careful not to isolate yourself for extended periods of time.
18. Practice gratitude
Gratitude is the practice of being thankful for the good things in your life. It can be very helpful in reducing the effects of bipolar disorder on everyday life.
When you’re feeling down, take a moment to think about things you’re grateful for. This can be anything from your health to your family and friends.
You can also keep a gratitude jar and add things you’re grateful for each day. On the tough days, review the items in the jar to remind yourself of all the positive in your life.
19. Pursue positivity
Positivity is a choice. You can choose to focus on the good or the bad. When you’re dealing with bipolar disorder, it’s important to focus on the positive as much as possible.
This doesn’t mean you have to ignore your symptoms or pretend they don’t exist. Instead, it means you should try to find the silver lining in every situation.
One way to pursue positivity is to practice gratitude (as mentioned above). You can also focus on your goals and what you’re looking forward to in the future. Many appreciate the weekday positivity posts in the Speaking Bipolar Positivity Club.
20. Hold on to hope
Bipolar disorder can be a very complex illness to deal with. There will be times when you feel you can’t go on. It’s important to hold on to hope during these dark times.
Remind yourself that your symptoms are temporary. You will get through this episode. Seek out support from family and friends, and reach out to a mental health professional if you need help.
21. Keep fighting
Bipolar disorder is a battle, but it’s one you can win. Don’t give up, no matter how difficult things get. If you remain determined to keep fighting no matter what, you will be successful.
I won’t pretend there won’t be hard days. Some days will test you to your limits, but you can beat them. Remember, you’ve already survived every worst day that’s happening in your life so far. Chances are excellent you’ll conquer any bad days to come.
Bipolar disorder is a a challenging illness to live with, but there are things you can do to make it easier. By following these tips, you can reduce the effects of bipolar disorder on your everyday life.
Do you have any tips to add? Please share them in the comments below.
Q: What is bipolar disorder?
A: Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme highs and lows in mood.
Q: What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
A: The symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary from person to person. Symptoms include mood swings, excessive energy, racing thoughts, and sleep problems.
Q: How is bipolar disorder treated?
A: There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for bipolar disorder. Common treatments can include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Q: Where can I find help for living with bipolar disorder?
A: There are many resources available for people living with bipolar disorder. Some helpful resources include therapy, support groups, and hotlines. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers support groups and educational programs for patients and their loved ones. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) also offers support groups and informational materials.
Q: Can you live a normal life with bipolar disorder?
A: Bipolar disorder can make everyday life very difficult. But there are ways to manage your symptoms and live a healthy life. You can find helpful posts like this one on SpeakingBipolar.com and by following me on social media.