For people with bipolar disorder, meditation and mindfulness may help with mood, emotional regulation, and stress management over time.

For some people with bipolar disorder, meditation may be recommended as an add-on to their treatment plan.

Some people living with bipolar disorder are known to ruminate more, meaning they may focus on negative experiences while in a depressive episode, or on positive experiences while in a manic episode. Meditation can help with long-term mood symptoms.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to managing bipolar disorder, so meditation may or may not work for you. But with the possible benefits, it could be worth a try.

The practice of meditation goes back thousands of years and has historically been used in spiritual practice. More recently, meditation has been adapted to promote general mindfulness, with a focus on achieving calm and positivity.

There are many kinds of meditation, but most emphasize four basic elements:

  • Environment: Find a calm, quiet location with minimal distractions.
  • Posture: Whether you’re sitting, lying down, or even walking, it’s important to be comfortable when meditating.
  • Attention: Focus your thoughts on what’s happening in the moment. Focusing on your breathing, feelings (physical or emotional), or repeating a chosen word or set of words can help center your attention.
  • Attitude: Specifically, try to create an attitude of openness and acceptance. This involves letting your thoughts and feelings come and go without judging them. Acknowledge your thoughts and let them go.

Meditation can be done on your own or as part of a guided program. These programs may include elements from other mindfulness techniques, such as breathing exercises or yoga.

When used in combination with your regular bipolar disorder treatment plan, meditation may support managing your moods and symptoms in the long term.

In a 2019 clinical trial involving 311 people with bipolar disorder II, people who meditated and took their medication had improved symptoms over those who only took medication and didn’t meditate.

The greatest improvements were seen for depressive symptoms, including:

  • guilt
  • depressed mood
  • a sense of helplessness and hopelessness

A 2017 study asked people with bipolar disorder (approximately 3/4 with bipolar disorder I and 1/4 with bipolar disorder II) to report their experiences with mindfulness practices over the course of 2 years.

The results suggest that structured mindfulness exercises — including meditation — were associated with long-lasting improvements in self-reported symptoms. Even unstructured mindfulness practices, like daily mindful breathing, were associated with preventing depressive episodes and other improvements in daily life.

Research in 2018 suggests that people with bipolar disorder who participated in mindfulness-based interventions, including meditation, had significant improvements in their depression and anxiety symptoms but not manic symptoms.

Meditation and psychosis

Meditation may worsen symptoms for some people with manic episodes.

A 2019 review suggests that for some people who are especially susceptible to mania with symptoms of psychosis, meditation may trigger psychosis. But it’s currently unclear what may cause this.

These results don’t cancel out the benefits that many others with bipolar disorder may experience with meditation. However, people who are prone to psychosis may want to talk with their treatment team before starting meditation.

There are also ways to adapt meditation and mindfulness practices to avoid triggering psychosis, such as focusing on real-life awareness and breathing rather than abstract philosophies like cosmic energy and chakras.

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There’s no “right” way to practice meditation — it’s all about finding components of meditation and mindfulness that work well for you.

Meditation can be attempted on your own by focusing on the key elements described above, or you can try a more guided approach. Meditation classes and support are often available from community resources, including:

  • yoga centers
  • athletic clubs
  • hospitals and clinics

You may also find it helpful to find a therapist who’s trained in the use of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy or mindfulness-based stress reduction, two evidence-based strategies that use many aspects of meditation. A healthcare professional can help provide recommendations for qualified pros in your area.

You could also use online tools or smartphone apps that promote mindfulness. Existing results from clinical trials suggest that these tools, when used regularly as part of a guided mindfulness routine, can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve overall well-being.

Meditation won’t cure bipolar disorder, but it may help improve your mood.

The best results have been seen for symptoms of depression associated with bipolar disorder, along with symptoms of anxiety. Meditation may also help with long-term mood symptoms — meaning that it may help prevent the extreme ups and downs associated with bipolar disorder.

Scientists who study the brain believe this is because mindfulness actually changes structures within the brain involved in emotional regulation and stress management. In this way, mindful meditation can help improve self-awareness and self-regulation of mood.

When added to your treatment plan for bipolar disorder, meditation may help improve depressive symptoms and promote long-term mood symptoms.

Some types of meditation may not work well for people with mania and psychosis. It’s important to talk with your doctor or treatment team before starting any mindfulness-based techniques.

You may want to try using online tools or apps to help guide your meditation at home, or you can find structured programs in your community to get started. Your healthcare team can also help connect you with a therapist who specializes in mindfulness-based techniques if you’re interested.

It can take a while to get used to meditation and for it to become part of your routine. But as with any lifestyle change, practice will help make meditation feel more natural — and can help you lay the foundation for long-lasting results.