Bipolar disorder introduces challenges into daily living. By adopting some specific strategies, you can start to work through the barriers.

No one person experiences bipolar disorder exactly like anyone else, but there are some common challenges that people with bipolar disorder can face.

These include relationship challenges, finding the right medication, and managing co-occurring conditions.

For many people, proactive strategies can help reduce the impact of these challenges in their daily life. This can often lead to better health outcomes and improved well-being with bipolar disorder.

Rapid changes in mood can create challenges for people with bipolar disorder.

There’s evidence, including research from 2017, that depressive symptoms can lead to work impairments. People with bipolar disorder often face social stigma, isolation, and interpersonal conflict on the job that can make working life challenging.

Mood changes also affect people socially. Research from 2016 found hypomania can lead to new social connections, but mania can create challenges in existing relationships.

This is a complex dynamic for people with bipolar disorder, as empathy and understanding from others can be a key part of coping.

Not knowing when you are about to have a mood shift can also add to feelings of distress. But there are strategies you can use that may help.

Strategies to manage mood shifts with bipolar disorder

A mood diary may help you to determine what triggers are likely to bring on a mood episode. For example:

  • feelings of stress
  • changes in your treatment plan
  • lack of sleep
  • physical illness

Knowing a bit more about your moods may help you to notice warning signs of a new mood episode. You may see differences in your sleep, eating habits, or usual demeanor, for example.

Using a mood diary means you can track trends in your mood and use that information to try and predict when your mood might change. If so, you may be able to surround yourself with the right support if and when that happens.

Bipolar disorder can bring challenges to your relationships. But it can also make those relationships stronger.

A 2021 literature review analyzed the impact on couples when one partner has bipolar disorder. Researchers found the partner without bipolar disorder experienced a number of challenges, like self-sacrifice and caregiver burden.

Other relationship challenges included volatility, feelings of stigma, and sexual dissatisfaction.

Despite these challenges, the researchers also found some couples actually developed stronger relationships through a deeper bond and commitment. Some also gained more empathy and compassion toward others and found personal resilience.

Strategies to manage relationships with bipolar disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, you might ask your loved ones if they would be willing to discuss your experience with the condition.

If your partner has bipolar disorder, it may help to learn all you can about the condition. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) offers resources to help you understand bipolar disorder.

Offering unconditional love and support can often help. Both of you may also benefit from the guidance of a mental health professional, who can help guide you on effectively communicating your needs, and on treatment and support plans.

Medication is often an important part of treatment for bipolar disorder. But for many people, it can take time to find the right type and dosage. Even when medication offers relief from symptoms, it can come with challenging side effects.

According to the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), mental health professionals recommend medications based on a person’s symptoms and make adjustments according to how they respond.

Those adjustments may include changing the amount of medication and adding another drug into the mix.

People reported to IBPF that they spent several years trying medication combinations before finding the right fit.

The UK mental health charity Mind also reports that medication for bipolar disorder can be a process of trial and error. However, medication, when matched well with the individual, can provide significant relief.

If you’re considering changing your dosage or switching to a new medication entirely, make an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss why you’re feeling this way.

Strategies to manage bipolar disorder medication and side effects

Since mental health professionals rely on the information you provide about symptoms, IBPF recommends being open and detailed with them about your experience. I

t can help to tell them about any side effects and express how you honestly feel about whether the medication is working for you.

Bipolar disorder medications can cause many side effects. For example, a serious side effect of lithium is toxicity, which is an emergency situation. However, there are specific strategies that can be used to minimize this risk.

Other side effects of lithium, which mental health professionals say are less serious, may include weight gain, thirst, and dry mouth. Some people also may feel like their thinking is slower.

Even if a side effect is not considered “serious,” it may make it hard for you to keep taking the medication. By communicating honestly with your mental health professional, you may be able to find the right medication combination that you can tolerate.

If you’re concerned about side effects from your medication, try to communicate with your mental health professional as honestly as you can.

People with bipolar disorder may also live with other mental or physical conditions, such as:

The relationship between these co-occurring conditions and bipolar disorder can be complex. For example, substance misuse can make mood symptoms worse.

The presence of psychosis can lead to misdiagnosis of another condition, such as schizophrenia.

According to the DBSA, the risk of PTSD is greater in those with bipolar disorder or depression. People with these conditions are more likely to experience a traumatic event, and a mood disorder increases the chances of developing PTSD after living through trauma.

Strategies to manage conditions that co-occur with bipolar disorder

You may want to consider being open with a mental health professional about your symptoms and experiences, even if they are tough to talk about. That can make it easier to find the right diagnosis.

A mental health professional may also be able to help you find a tailored treatment plan that addresses everything you’re going through, including help with trauma recovery, recovery from substance misuse or use disorders, or anxiety.

Maintaining good physical health through a healthy diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep can be an important part of building daily predictable routines, which help with mood management in bipolar disorder.

Exercise of any kind can help boost endorphins (the “feel good” hormones), and eating more nutritious meals can increase your energy. Working with both your mental health professional and your family doctor to stay in good physical health can help you to manage co-occurring conditions.

You can get started on incorporating these three things into your life by looking up nutritious and cost-effective recipes, trying a sleep app, or simply putting on comfy shoes and going for a walk. You also can find more tips on how to get a good night’s sleep here.

It’s important to discuss changes to your exercise and diet with a healthcare professional first, as some of these changes can affect the way some medications work.

Bipolar disorders are complex, but highly treatable, mental health conditions.

Your experience with a bipolar disorder may be quite different from another person’s, but you may gain knowledge and comfort from listening to stories of others who share your diagnosis.

PsychCentral’s podcasts may help you find that link.

No matter what stage you’re in on your journey with bipolar disorder, you can access mental health resources that can help.

Consider checking out Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource to find the right mental health professional for you.

You can also address other challenges of bipolar disorder with small changes that fit your lifestyle, such as:

  • talking with a mental health professional about medication changes or dosage adjustments
  • creating or purchasing a mood journal
  • trying new, more healthful foods
  • joining an exercise class or sports league
  • starting a stress-reduction activity like meditation or yoga